1899, the glory days of empire, when Pax Britannica ruled the waves and the Germans and Americans were viewed as upstarts. For awhile, a running flash point for those conflicting interests flared up in the middle of the Pacific, in Samoa.
Apia harbor in 1889 almost became the scene of open warfare between Germany and America, with the British attempting to act as intermediaries. In March that year, a tremendous hurricane struck, wrecking US and German warships (HMS Calliope left harbor and managed to ride out the storm) but defusing the situation – at least for awhile.
Ten years later an agreement was finally reached to divide American and German spheres of influence in the islands, and the British formally renounced any claim. Happiness and comity broke out — at least among the imperial powers — and a series of celebrations were had.
For the Fourth of July, sailors from the gunboat USS Badger created the mighty mock battleship Missouri, seen here underway in Apia harbor as viewed from the mother ship. The wider view shows, in the background at left, the black-hulled British Pearl-class cruiser HMS Tauranga, and at right is the German colonial cruiser SMS Falke.
The photo, taken from the “Programme of USS Badger, Apia, Samoa,” shows the remarkable cleverness of the US sailors in fashioning gun turrets, a flying bridge, a tall smokestack, and even a fighting top in the mast. A commodore conns the ship from the bridge while women are seated forward, Uncle Sam stands sturdily on the fantail and a sword-carrying bugler sounds his horn. It appears the ship is being rowed by stokers, using the large shovels normally employed in shoveling coal into the ship’s boilers.
Presumably USS Missouri was reconverted back into a ship’s boat soon after the festivities.
Photo is from the collection of the Naval History and Heritage Command, NH 54425.
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