Monday, September 8, 2014

USS Yankton & Rum Running: A Black Mark on an Illustrious Career


USS Yankton at Hampton Roads, December 10, 1916.

Built as a luxury yacht in 1893, the Navy acquired USS Yankton in May 1898. Commissioned at Norfolk, it was prepared for operations in the Spanish-American War. As part of blockading duties off Cuba, it participated in shelling Spanish gunboats and land batteries. After the war, Yankton was converted to a fleet tender. In December 1907, it sailed out of Hampton Roads as part of the Great White Fleet for that around-the-world cruise, returning in 1909.

After the cruise, the converted yacht continued as a fleet tender until America's entrance into WWI. In 1914 it participated in Navy operations off Mexico during the Vera Cruz Crisis. During the war Yankton performed convoy escort duty off of Gibraltar, rescuing a damaged Italian merchant ship from a U-boat at one point. By September 1918, the yacht was summoned back to the United States to operate with the Atlantic Fleet.

Shortly after the Armistice, Yankton was sent back overseas, this time to the Barents Sea off of northern Russia. From February to July 1919, the yacht and a handful of other American ships (including subchasers) supported operations against the Bolsheviks in Murmansk and Archangel. For the remainder of the year it was stationed off England before returning stateside in January 1920.

Decommissioned soon after returning, the vessel was sold in 1921. Two years later the ship sprang into national news. Operated as part of a rum running ring, the yacht was captured in New York by customs officials. It was registered as a British ship and according to reports, had come to “Rum Row” (a group of smuggling ships anchored outside of the maritime limit) from the West Indies with a valuable cargo of illegal rum worth $500,000. The ship was eventually returned to civilian maritime service but was scrapped in 1930. 

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