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            In the beginning there was one USS ASHEVILLE PG-21.  She was commissioned in 1920, served in the Caribbean and China coast, and sunk by Japanese forces March 1942. 

            The second USS. ASHEVILLE PF-1, a patrol frigate, commissioned in 1942, served on the east coast doing escort duties during World War II, decommissioned in 1946. 

            The third USS ASHEVILLE PG-84, a high speed gunboat, commissioned in 1966, served in the Vietnam area and decommissioned in 1977. 

The fourth USS ASHEVILLE, SSN758, a nuclear attack submarine, was commissioned on September 28, 1991 at Norfolk, VA.  She is now serving the Pacific with homeport at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The first USS ASHEVILLE PG-21carried the American flag around the world, served gallantly in peacetime and heroically during war.  Her career deserves a full story.  She was part of the Asiatic fleet that protected American lives and property in the Philippines and China from 1854. 

Early in 1916 Dr. Joseph B. Greene, at that time Medical Examiner for the navy in Asheville, suggested at a meeting of the Rotary Club that a ship be named after the city.  It was immediately taken up by the Rotarians, the board of trade, and other organizations.  Through Congressman Zeb Weaver, the proposal was placed before the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels who gave his immediate approval. 

Construction was authorized Aug. 29, 1916 for $1,100,000.  The keel was laid June 1, 1917 and launched July 4, 1918. 

The launching was attended by many Asheville dignitaries including Frank Weaver representing the Board of Trade, (now called the Chamber of Commerce), James G. Stikeleather representing the city of Asheville and other Asheville men from various organizations in the city.  Also attending was miss Cornelia Vanderbilt and Mrs. George Vanderbilt.  Miss Alyne Reynolds, daughter of city and state health officer Dr. Carl Reynolds, was the official sponsor for the ship.  Miss. Reynolds gracefully broke the bottle of sparkling North Fork water (this was during prohibition) on the bow of this new ship as it slid smoothly down the ways and into the waters of the Cooper River.  Miss Reynolds christened this ship “the Gem of the Land and the Sky.”  It was indeed an historic occasion being the first warship built by the Charleston Navy Shipyard and the first warship ever to be named for the city of Asheville, North Carolina. 

The Asheville was commissioned on July 6, 1920.  She was a gunboat 241’2 long and 41’3 beam.  Displaced 1207 tons drew 12’9” water and had a top speed of 12 knots.  Her armament consisted of 3-4” guns, 2-3 pounders and 3 one pounders. 

The mission of the Asheville was to show the flag to foreign waters, protect American interests abroad, and provide a landing force of Marines and Sailors wherever necessary.  Her first port of call was Key West, Florida.  Her first Commanding Officer was Cdr. Jesse B. Gay and the Executive Officer was LtCdr. Elliot Buckmaster. 

The Asheville served its country well and was assigned to the Special Service Squadron in the Caribbean until 1922.  At that time she returned to Charleston naval Shipyard and was converted from coal to oil burning boilers, but the galley still remained coal burning until finally converted in 1936 at Cavite Naval Shipyard in the Philippines.

Later in 1922 she was ordered to the Asiatic fleet.  Her Commanding Officer at that time was J.O. Richardson who later became Commander in Chief of the pacific Fleet.  She proceeded [sic] to this new assignment via the Suez Canal visiting en-route Bermuda, Gibraltar, Malta, Egypt, Bombay, Ceylon, Singapore, Philippines and eventually China itself. 

Upon arrival in Cavite, Philippine islands the Marine detachment was received onboard and remained an integral part of the ship’s company, sending landing forces ashore to protect American lives and property as needed.  They were finally disbanded at Shanghai, China on 8 July 1938 and transferred to the Fourth marines at Shanghai. 

The ports visited by the Asheville during her patrol duties in china were Canton, Hong Kong, Swatow, Amoy, Foochow, Shanghai, Nanking, Tsingtao, Chefoo, Tientsin and Chingwangtao. 

In 1929 the Asheville was once again recalled to the United States for service in the Caribbean.  On April 25 to April 23, 1931, the sailors and Marines were landed in Puerto Cabezos, Nicaragua to repel expected bandit raids by rebel leader, Sandino.  The sailors had to dye their white uniforms with coffee to achieve a less noticeable khaki color.  The ship was stripped for action to back up the landing force.  As the rebel leader did not approach the city the landing force was recalled. 

At this time the Asheville had gone around the world as her return journey to the United States was via the pacific and Honolulu. 

In 1932 the Asheville was once again ordered to return to China and this time went via Honolulu.  In China she once again took up patrol duty along the approximately 2000-mile China coast. 

In 1937 while Asheville was in Swatow, China, word was received of the sinking of the USS PANAY by the Japanese.  Later two of the survivors of the Panay were transferred to the Asheville for duty. 

In 1938 the Asheville was present in Amoy, China during May and saved approximately 60,000 Chinese residents from starving after they had been placed on a small island adjacent to the city by the Japanese invasion forces with food or water.  The Asheville commandeered a rice and water barge from Amoy and brought it to the Chinese on this island called Kulangsu.  

In November 1940 the Asheville was ordered to the Philippines, as war seemed imminent.  En route her engines were disabled and on 4 November she was towed by her sister ship TULSA and later the minesweeper BITTERN who took her to the Cavite Navy Yard.  On May 24, 1941 the Asheville returned to Hong Kong, B.C.C on June 30 she proceeded to Swatow, China and on July 1, 1941 departed for Amoy, China.  On July 5 Asheville departed Amoy en route to Hong Kong but had engine trouble in a typhoon.  On the 7th cruiser Marblehead took her in tow and headed for Manila.  On the 9th of July the tow was transferred to the NAPA and they reached Cavite Navy Yard on July 11th

When the Japanese took the Philippines, the Asheville and her sister ship Tulsa was ordered to Surabaya, Java.  In a tense voyage of 2000 miles in 12 days and sailing only at night, hiding in little island coves, etc. during the day, these little gunboats escaped the large Japanese Naval and Air force that by the had spread all over the far east. 

Later the Asheville was ordered to Tjilatjap, java and remained there doing escort duty until March 1, 1942 when her participation in the defense of the Dutch East Indies was declared hopeless and she received her last order to proceed to Australia as the Japanese overwhelmingly closed their pincers on the remainder of the once formidable Asiatic Fleet. 

          The ships were supposed to rendezvous at a point approximately 500 miles SW of Tjilatjap and the Asheville with her sister ship Tulsa was proceeding in that direction.  On March 2, 1942 they were spotted by a Japanese shipboard seaplane and decided to split up to lessen the chances of both being caught.  The Asheville proceeded on to the rendezvous point as her engines were giving her trouble and could not keep up.  Possibly, she thought, at the rendezvous point, other Asiatic Fleet ships would be there to join up with for safety.  Actually no other ship went to the rendezvous point.  The order had been radioed in a simple code due to the man nationalities involved with the Allied Forces, and for that reason the other shop captains feared that the Japanese would pick up the message and await them at that point.  That was exactly what happened to the Asheville.  On March 3 the Tulsa received the following message 03833 ASHEVILLE ATTACKED 12-33s-111-35-E RRRR.   The series R’s indicated that the attacker was a surface raider and neither a submarine nor aircraft. 

Later research revealed that the Japanese ships were: destroyers Arashi (Cdr. Yasumasa Watanabe), Nowake (Cdr. Magotaro Koga) and the cruiser Maya (Capt. Shunsku Nabeshima).  The destroyers attacked with gunfire but the cruiser just stood by.  In 30 minutes the battle was over.  The Asheville riddled with exploding shells, her once proud structure torn to shreds, sank beneath the oceans crest. 

After the ship had sunk, one or two of the destroyers came by the survivors in the water and at first called out “if there were any officers in the water”, receiving no reply, one ship threw over a line.  Fireman Fred Brown from Ft. Wayne, Indiana grabbed the line and was taken onboard the destroyer.  This was presumably to identify the ship they had sunk.  Brown was taken to the Japanese prison camp at Makassar, Celebes.  There he suffered untold hardships, until he died 3 years later from Pellegra, Heart trouble and dysentery.  He was returned to the U.S. in 1947 for final burial in his hometown of Ft. Wayne, Indiana. 

No other members of the crew were rescued and all were machine gunned and left in the shark infested water to drown. 

In August 1942 the city of Asheville, North Carolina rallied around the country's needs and from its own volunteers gave back to the U.S. Navy 160 men to replace those heroes lost on their and our ship. 

            In August 1984, a commemorative reunion was organized in Asheville by retired Navy lieutenant, Walter Ashe, former USS ASHEVILLE sailor.  The whole city turned out to support this joining together for the first time of the sailors who served on the USS ASHEVILLE prior to its sinking.  From this reunion a Navy organization was formed to perpetuate the memory of this ship for the lives they gave for their country.  This organization the South China Patrol Asiatic Fleet is still strongly in existence and has recently added a former navy group called the Yangtze River Patrol.  Now we are called the South China Yangtze Patrol Asiatic Fleet.  The South China gunboats patrolled the China coast, the Yangtze River gunboats patrolled the 3500 mile Yangtze River.  Now we are one. 


             In 1986 a mayor’s committee was formed in Asheville to obtain another ship to bear the name of our city.  The Secretary of the navy awarded us the new nuclear attack submarine being built at Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News, Va.  The name USS ASHEVILLE SSN758 was assigned to it.  The committee invited the prospective ship’s captain and crew to our city a number of times and for the commissioning the city raised over $120,000.  With these funds the committee bought every officer and crewman on the ship a beautiful Navy ring with their initials inside.  Also a commissioning book was made and distributed and the ship’s crew was entertained appropriately by banquets, recreation room paintings and other necessities.  


Walter F. Ashe
Lt. SC, USN (Ret.)

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