Cyclone in Apia, Samoa, March 1889

Or, The US and Germany Square Up To Each Other In The Pacific

Like a foam flake tossed and thrown,
She could barely hold her own,
While the other ships all helplessly were drifting to the lee.
Through the smother and the rout
The `Calliope‘ steamed out —
And they cheered her from the Trenton that was foundering in the sea.

USS Trenton
USS Trenton

The harbour at Apia on Samoa over the 15th and 16th of March, 1889 was the site of one of the most amazing naval confrontations in the 19th Century. Both the US and Germany were trying to expand their spheres of influence in the Pacific as well as obtain coaling stations in advantageous areas. One such location was the island of Samoa and the harbour at Apia. The Germans had been trying to take over the island, with the permission of the British, it seems, and there are grounds here for some nice little colonial skirmish Wargames.

The ships involved in this event are all described in Conway’s All The World’s Fighting Ships: 1860-1905, probably one of my favourite books. The page references to Conway’s below refer to this edition of Conway’s.

In Apia Harbour on that fateful day were, amongst other vessels, 7 ships of war. The Americans were represented by USS Trention (pg 126), USS Nipsic ((a Kansas Class Gunboat)) (pg 130) and USS Vandalia ((a Galena and Vandalis class sloop)) (pg 127).

The Germans were represented by the SMS Olga ((a Carola class corvette)) (pg 252), the SMS Adler ((a Habicht Class gunboat)) (pg 260) and the SMS Eber (pg 260).

The British were there too with HMS Calliope ((a Calypso class steel corvette)) (pg 54) flying the Union Jack.

The reason the US and German vessels were there was due to the political unrest in Samoa at the time. The US appear to have perceived the German presence at Samoa as contrary to US interests in the Pacific. The British were also there but more in a position of just watching what was going on.

The US commander was Rear Admiral Lewis A Kimberly aboard the Vandalis and he appears to have ignored the threatening weather. Local advice from Samoa was that the hurricane/typhoon/cyclone season ((actually, as it is the South Pacific Ocean I think that it was technically a cyclone)) was past there was no danger. I think that the fact that the Germans were still there and not moving may have persuaded the Admiral to remain in place as well.

The Germans were also remaining in the harbour, presumably because the Americans were.

The cyclone then arrived.

To find out what happened after the cyclone arrived, follow the link to Apia, Samoa, March 1889 – The US and Germany Square Up To Each Other In The Pacific and be sure to read the poem about HMS Calliope written by A. B. “Banjo” Patterson whilst you are there.

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