USS Augusta (CA-31) - Atlantic Fleet

Atlantic Fleet

Departing Mare Island on 11 April 1941, Augusta, her configuration altered and repainted, sailed for San Pedro, remaining there over 12 April and 13 April. She transited the Panama Canal four days later, reporting for duty with the Atlantic Fleet on 17 April. Departing the Canal Zone on the 19th, the heavy cruiser arrived at Newport, R.I., on 23 April. Admiral Ernest J. King, now Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, returned from Washington, D.C., on 2 May and broke his flag in Augusta. The cruiser remained at Newport, serving as the administrative CINCLANT flagship (although Admiral King journeyed to Washington again during this time), through most of May, until she sailed for Bermuda on the 24th of that month. Reaching her destination on the 26th, she remained there only until the 28th, at which time she sailed for Newport once more.

Augusta remained anchored at Narragansett Bay from 30 May to 23 June, when she sailed for the New York Navy Yard. She had been chosen for special duty, the inception of which had come in the developing personal relationship between US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Prime Minister of the UK (since 1939 at war with Nazi Germany), Winston Churchill. The two leaders had sought a face-to-face meeting for some time, and Harry Hopkins (President Roosevelt's personal representative) had visited Churchill and sounded him out on the proposal as early as February 1941. The President had also discussed the idea with Admiral King earlier that spring. Original intentions had been to hold such a conference in June, but British disasters in Greece and Crete had forced a postponement until later in the summer.

Augusta had been chosen to serve as the President's flagship as early as mid-June, shortly after Admiral King had visited Roosevelt in connection with the drafting of Western Hemisphere Defense Plan No. Four. On 16 June, the New York Navy Yard commandant was informed that Augusta would soon require an availability for the installation of her CXAM radar and 1.1 inch (28 mm) antiaircraft guns, "incident to possible future Presidential use and other urgent work." Details of the availability assignment, however, touched off a "little war" between the Bureau of Ships (BuShips) and CINCLANT. Since BuShips had no word concerning the President's plans, they issued orders to hold Augusta at New York Navy Yard for extended repairs. On 22 June, Admiral King informed BuShips, however, that alterations to the heavy cruiser "for possible use by the President were initiated by the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, after conversations with the President" and that the alteration should be limited to accomplish only "essential" items. Augusta remained in the yard at New York from 23 June to 2 July, after which time she resumed operations along the eastern seaboard, in waters off Hilton Head and Charleston, South Carolina (4 July to 5 July), Hampton Roads (6 July to 7 July) before she returned to Newport on 8 July. She remained there into August.

During that time, details for the meeting between President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill were worked out and plans set in motion to bring it to pass. While Churchill was making the Atlantic crossing in the modern battleship Prince of Wales, the President was on his way; he departed Washington, D.C. at 1100 on 3 August for the Submarine Base at New London, Connecticut, where he embarked with his party on board the Presidential yacht Potomac, which, in company with her escort, Calypso, soon sailed for Appogansett Bay. At 2223 on 4 August Potomac anchored in Menemsha Bight, Vineyard Sound, Massachusetts, joining Augusta, which had already arrived. Tuscaloosa and five destroyers lay nearby.

At 05:30 on 5 August, Potomac came alongside Augusta and moored, the President and his party embarking in the heavy cruiser at 0617. For security purposes, the President's flag remained in Potomac while she, accompanied by Calypso, transited the Cape Cod Canal to New England waters. A Secret Serviceman, approximating the President in size and affecting his mannerisms when visible from a distance, impersonated the President. Press releases issued daily from Potomac led all who read them to believe that "FDR" was embarked in his yacht on a pleasure cruise.

Meanwhile, Augusta, accompanied by Tuscaloosa and their screening destroyers, stood out of Vineyard Sound at 0640, at 20 knots (37 km/h), passing the Nantucket Shoals Lightship at 1125. Increasing speed slightly during the night, the ships steamed on, darkened. Outside of a brief two-hour period the following day, 6 August, when the formation encountered heavy fog which forced them to slow to 14 knots (26 km/h), the ships maintained a 20 to 21 knot (37 to 39 km/h) pace for the rest of the voyage to NS Argentia, Newfoundland. Ultimately, on the morning of 7 August 1941, Augusta and her consorts stood into Ship Harbor, Placentia Bay, and anchored to await Churchill's arrival.

During the forenoon, the Chief Executive indulged in one of his favorite leisure activities, fishing, from Augusta's forecastle. Roosevelt "caught a large and ugly fish which could not be identified by name and which he directed be preserved and delivered to the Smithsonian Institute upon return to Washington." At 1335, the President left the ship in a whaleboat to fish in the nearby waters, taking with him members of his party and his son, Ensign Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., USNR, an officer of Mayrant on temporary duty as his father's aide. Later, after a somewhat less than successful fishing expedition, the President inspected the waterfront and the base development at Argentia.

On 9 August, Prime Minister Churchill arrived at Argentia aboard Prince of Wales, the arrival of the battleship being viewed by the President and his party; Churchill visited the President at 1100 that day, and lunched with him in his cabin. Admiral King entertained members of the respective staffs at a luncheon in his cabin. The heavy cruiser also embarked Harry Hopkins, who had come across from England on board Prince of Wales. The Prime Minister later dined with the President, and ultimately left Augusta at 2345.

The following day, McDougal came alongside and embarked the President and his party, transporting them to Prince of Wales for divine services, an inspection of the battleship's topsides, and a luncheon. President Roosevelt again entertained the Prime Minister on board Augusta that evening. On 11 August and 12 August, Prime Minister Churchill and members of his staff came on board the heavy cruiser for conferences with the President and his aides; from these discussions emerged the famed "Atlantic Charter." On the latter day, the final draft of the "Eight Points" of the charter was completed. With the meeting having been completed, President Roosevelt and his staff assembled on Augusta's quarterdeck at 1450 on 12 August to bid Prime Minister Churchill and his staff farewell. With the ship's guard and band paraded, the parting ended with the playing of God Save the King. A little over two hours later, Prince of Wales passed close aboard and rendered passing honors, after which the band stuck up Auld Lang Syne. Augusta then got under way in company with Tuscaloosa and their screening destroyers, en route to Blue Hill Bay, Maine, to rendezvous with Potomac and Calypso.

The following day, a dense fog prompted the ships to reduce speed, and the President and the members of his staff rested, preparing for the transfer to the Potomac. The following morning, 14 August, off Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, President Roosevelt went on deck to witness the operations of the first aircraft escort vessel (later CVE), Long Island, the prototype of a ship type that the Chief Executive had avidly pushed toward development. Long Island launched three Brewster F2A-2 Buffalos by the catapult method and six Curtiss SOCs by conventional carrier takeoff. That afternoon on board Augusta, Admiral King hosted a farewell luncheon for the President.

Augusta anchored at Blue Hill Bay at 1228 on 14 August, and Potomac moored alongside to commence the transfer of baggage and other gear, ultimately casting off at 1418 for passage to Rockland, Maine.

Augusta returned to Narragansett Bay on 15 August, and remained there for ten days, putting into the New York Navy Yard soon afterwards. She returned to Newport on 29 August. Admiral King retained Augusta as his flagship through the autumn, while she operated between Newport and Bermuda. During this time, she also briefly embarked Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox.

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