The U.S. Navy has had four ships named after the city of Mobile, in Mobile County. The first, a side-wheel steamer, dates to the Civil War and was used by both the Confederacy and the U.S. Navy. The second ship to bear the name was built as a German passenger liner in 1908, was interned by the British during World War I, and then served as a U.S. Navy troop transport, returning U.S. troops from France after the war ended. The third ship was the USS Mobile (CL-63), a World War II-era light cruiser of the Cleveland class that fought in numerous campaigns in the Pacific theater. The fourth ship was an armed cargo ship that served the Navy from the Vietnam War through the Gulf War.
USS Mobile I
USS Mobile, 1862 The first USS Mobile, originally named the Tennessee, was a side-wheel steamer built in Baltimore in 1854 for the Texas Steamship Company, which operated ships between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Galveston, Texas. The vessel was 210 feet long and 33 feet wide, drew 16 feet and 6 inches, and displaced 1,275 tons of water. On January 15, 1862, Confederate forces in New Orleans seized the ship and converted it to a blockade runner. Federal forces captured the vessel when they occupied New Orleans on April 25, 1862, and the U.S. Navy commissioned it as the USS Tennessee, retaining the name, on May 8, 1862.
Assigned to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, the Tennessee, armed with two 32-pounder guns, one 30-pounder Parrott rifle, and one 12-pounder gun, took part in the capture of Port Hudson, Louisiana, on July 9, 1863, and of Forts Morgan and Gaines in August 1864. Because of its speed, the ship captured or assisted in the capture of seven Confederate blockade runners. In addition, it served as a dispatch boat for the squadron, operating between Pensacola, Florida, and the mouth of the Rio Grande to the west.
The U.S. Navy captured the Confederate ironclad CSS Tennessee during the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864, and renamed the original USS Tennessee as the USS Mobile. Heavily damaged soon afterwards in a storm off the Texas coast, the Mobile sailed to New York for repairs. On March 30, 1865, the U.S. Navy sold it to Russell Sturgis, a Boston merchant involved in the China trade with China, who renamed it the Republic on May 12, 1865. Five months later, on October 25, 1865, the ship sank off the Georgia coast near Savannah.
USS Mobile II
USS Mobile 1919 The second Mobile began its maritime service as the passenger liner Cleveland, built in 1908 by Blohm and Voss, of Hamburg, Germany, for the Hamburg-Amerika Line (also known as the Hamburg-American Line). From 1908 to the beginning of World War I in August 1914, the liner regularly crossed the Atlantic between Germany and the United States. At the start of the war, the British government interned the vessel, and it was eventually turned over to the United States. The U.S. Navy commissioned and assigned the liner to the Cruiser and Transport Force and on March 29, 1919, renamed it the USS Mobile. Soon converted to a troop transport, the vessel began returning American troops in France to the United States. In all, it would make nine transatlantic crossings through September and ferry more than 21,000 Americans home and some 22 passengers to Europe on the return trips. The vessel was decommissioned by the Navy on November 25, 1919, and transferred to the U.S. Shipping Board, which, in turn, returned it to Great Britain in 1922. The vessel was sold to the Byron Steamship Co., Ltd., and renamed the King Alexander. It was sold to the United States Line in 1923 and again named the Cleveland, and was bought back by the Hamburg-Amerika Line in 1926. It was retired in 1931 and scrapped in 1933.
USS Mobile III
USS Mobile (CL-63) 1943 The third Mobile (CL-63) was a World War II light cruiser of the 27-ship Cleveland class. The Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, of Newport News, Virginia, began construction on April 14, 1941, and launched the vessel on May 15, 1942. It was christened by Louise Hartwell, wife of Harry T. Hartwell, a four-time mayor of Mobile between 1924 and 1933. The Navy commissioned it on March 24, 1943, and named Charles J. Wheeler as captain. The Mobile had a crew between 1,214 and 1,475, was just over 610 feet in length, was 66 feet and four inches wide (beam), sat nearly 25 feet in the water, and displaced 10,000 tons of water. Propelled by four turbine engines, the cruiser had a top speed of 38 miles per hour, or about 34 knots, and was armed with 12 six-inch, .47 caliber guns in four turrets, two forward and two aft; 12 five-inch, .38 caliber guns in six turrets; and 28 40-mm antiaircraft guns. The cruiser also had three Vought OS2U Kingfisher observation floatplanes that could be launched from a steam catapult mounted on the ship’s stern.
After a test cruise in Chesapeake Bay and a brief training cruise to Casco Bay, Maine, the Mobile departed for the Pacific theater and arrived at Pearl Harbor on July 23, 1943, for another month of training. In general, the Mobile used its six- and five-inch guns for shore bombardment and anti-ship fire, its antiaircraft guns to protect aircraft carrier task forces from enemy aircraft, and its scout planes for antisubmarine patrols and search-and-rescue missions. Its first combat operation occurred between August and October 1943 against Marcus Island and other Japanese-held islands in the Pacific Ocean. In November and December, the ship and crew participated in the invasions of Bougainville and Tarawa and joined the Fast Carrier Task Force for attacks on the Marshall Islands. In late January 1944, the Mobile participated in the invasion of Kwajalein Atoll and later operated with carrier task forces during strikes throughout the Central Pacific and along the north shore of New Guinea between mid-February and May 1944. The ship participated in the Marianas and Palau Islands campaign between June and September and in late October was among the ships in the American invasion of Leyte, in the Philippines, and the Battle of Cape Engaño, assisting in sinking the Japanese carrier Chiyoda and a Japanese destroyer. The ship and crew continued to sail alongside U.S. carriers during the Philippines campaign until late December 1944.
In early 1945, the Mobile sailed for the West Coast of the United States for a major overhaul. That March, the ship returned to the Western Pacific and provided gunnery support during the invasion and conquest of Okinawa in April and May. With the Japanese surrender in late August, the cruiser assisted in the occupation Japan and made two transpacific voyages transporting American servicemen, including prisoners of war, home to the United States in 1946. In early 1947, the Mobile reported to the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Washington, to be decommissioned. Assigned to the Pacific Reserve Fleet, in March 1959, the Navy struck the Mobile from the Naval Vessel Register and sold it in December 1959 to Zidell Explorations, Inc., for scrapping. The USS Mobile received 11 battle stars for its World War II service.
USS Mobile IV
USS Mobile (AKA-115/LKA-115) The fourth Navy ship to bear the name USS Mobile was a Charleston class amphibious cargo ship, designated as AKA-115/LKA-115. The Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, of Newport, News, Virginia, began construction on January 15, 1968, and launched the ship on October 19, 1968. The vessel was 575 feet and six inches long and had a width of 82 feet, a draft of 25 feet and five inches, and displaced nearly 8,370 tons of water. The ship was crewed by 50 officers and 592 enlisted seamen and was armed with four twin 3-inch, .50 caliber guns, two forward and two aft. Key features of the Mobile were its helicopter landing platform and special elevators which raised and lowered the large twin-rotor CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter to transport supplies to assault landing sites on shore or to other ships and also the ship’s 12 cargo booms, two of which could lift 70 tons. In addition, the vessel’s flat bottom enabled it to drop anchor several hundred yards offshore and use the booms to maneuver the ship’s 18 landing craft overboard to ferry soldiers and their equipment directly to shore.
Commissioned on September 29, 1969, this Mobile served for more than 24 years, from the last years of the Vietnam War through the Gulf War. The Mobile was deployed nine times to South Vietnam before the war ended in January 1973. The ship then participated in five additional deployments to South Vietnam that ended with assisting in the evacuation of Americans and South Vietnamese as the country fell to Communist forces in April 1975. The Mobile took part in other deployments and exercises in the Western Pacific between February 1975 and July 1988. During Operation Desert Storm in early 1991, the vessel was part of an 18-ship amphibious task force in the North Arabian Sea, the largest amphibious task force since the Korean War. The Navy decommissioned the ship on February 25, 1994, at Long Beach, California, and assigned it to the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the ship earned 15 awards and campaign ribbons.
Fowler, William M. Jr. Under Two Flags: The American Navy in the Civil War. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990.
Friedman, Norman. U.S. Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1984.
Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Two-Ocean War; A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. Boston: Little, Brown, 1963.
Sharpe, Richard, editor. Jane’s Fighting Ships 1993-94. Surrey, United Kingdom: Jane’s Information Group, 1994