U.S. Coast Guard History Program: "Seneca, 1908"
The Revenue Cutter SENECA, for which the present day SENECA is named, was launched at Newport News, Virginia on March 18, 1908. Noteworthy high seas rescues, courageous crews, and dependable performance of routine law enforcement and military duties characterized her 28 years of service.
After a November 6, 1908 commissioning, the first SENECA responded to a distress call on January 23, 1909 from the passenger liner REPUBLIC. SENECA was on station in the North Atlantic when REPUBLIC reported taking on water at an alarming rate. The Revenue Cutters GRESHAM and SENECA aided in the rescue of the survivors of the ill-fated liner. SENECA successfully saved the remaining crew of the sinking ship and returned them to port in New York. From 1908 until 1913 the Cutter SENECA performed routine patrols, including the Harvard- Yale regatta and the British International Trophy Race at Huntington, Long Island.
On April 14, 1912 the RMS TITANIC struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank with over 2200 people aboard. The international cry that arose as a result of the disaster led directly to the establishment of the International Ice Patrol. SENECA became the first cutter to assume ice patrol duties, and routinely performed the patrol through 1914.
On January 28, 1915 the Revenue Cutter Service united with the U. S. Lifesaving Service to form the United States Coast Guard. This action affected SENECA's operations minimally. It was an escalating war in Europe that was to change her service dramatically. In the years prior to 1917 SENECA conducted Neutrality Patrols and was increasingly involved in Search and Rescue.
The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany on February 2, 1917, increasing the tension and the stakes of "Neutrality" patrols. In April of the same year the U. S. declared war on Germany, and Coast Guard Cutters were transferred to the U. S. Navy. SENECA, with the cutters TAMPA, OSSIPEE, ALGONQUIN, and MANNING made up Squadron 2 of Division 6 of the Atlantic Fleet Patrol Forces. Their mission was to protect convoys from submarine attacks. During the war SENECA escorted 19 convoys, comprising a total of 350 vessels through the sub-infested waters between Gibraltar and Great Britain.
The months between March and September 1918 were the most critical in the ship's life. While on escort duty, SENECA was involved in four dramatic SAR operations. On March 25, 1918 SENECA rescued 81 members from the torpedoed HMS COWSLIP. Three months later she rescued 27 crewmen from the torpedoed SS QUEEN, and assisted the SS PINICHE, which had been disabled by an explosion in her engine room.
While serving in French waters, escorting a large slow convoy to Great Britain, SENECA 's crew initiated one of the most heroic and tragic rescue attempts in history on September 19, 1918. A torpedo struck the SS WELLINGTON, a large British cargo vessel, ripping away the forward 30 feet of the ship. The crew of 36 was rescued by SENECA, but before they had even been taken aboard, LT Fletcher Webster Brown, USCG received permission from his captain to call for volunteers to go upon WELLINGTON and if possible, take the ship the remaining 300 miles to Great Britain. Every man of SENECA's crew volunteered, but only 18 were chosen.
The 18 SENECA crewmen boarded WELLINGTON and were later joined by 2 of the Wellington's original crew. Soon, with Coast Guardsmen manning the aft gun, engine room, and bridge, the WELLINGTON was underway toward Great Britain making approximately 5 knots. The ship maintained the speed throughout the evening, and SENECA left her to resume her duties with the convoy. By midnight, however, the weather had deteriorated significantly, and the seas had begun to rise. Shortly after midnight they lost the bet; the rising seas burst the forward bulkhead and the WELLINGTON went down with 10 of the heroic volunteers from SENECA aboard. A memorial plaque was erected at Gibraltar in honor of the valiant efforts of the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter SENECA. There is also a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
From the end of the war in 1918 until 1936 the Coast Guard Cutter SENECA served with distinction. She performed Ice Patrols, scientific patrols, and other routine law enforcement patrols. On September 3, 1936 the distinguished Cutter SENECA was decommissioned.
In memory of SENECA's fallen shipmates, a monument was erected at Arlington National Cemetery.