George W. Steele Jr.

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In 1903, the American Consul in Beirut was reported murdered. The USS San Francisco was ordered there in order to retrieve the Consul's body. Ensign George W. Steele, Jr., was placed in command of a machine gun and ordered to land and retrieve the Consul or his body. Fifteen minutes after going ashore Steele returned to the San Francisco with the Consul, who was alive (Indiana War History). This young man named George Steele was a native of Marion, Indiana. Steele had a long career in the United States Navy that saw many theatres of operations. His command of the rigid airship ZR-3 USS Los Angeles is perhaps the most recognizable part of his career. George W. Steele, Jr., was a distinguished naval officer and is one of Marion, Indiana's most distinguished citizens.

Steele's Young Life

George Washington Steele, Jr., was born on 19 June 1879, in Marion, Indiana. He was the son of George Washington Steele, Sr., a former United States Representative and Territorial Governor of Oklahoma. Steele attended Shattuck School in Fairbault, Minnesota and public schools in Marion. Following this education he received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland (George W. Steele, Jr.). While in the Academy he was elected adjutant of the Naval Academy twice, "an honor probably never before given to another cadet in the history of the school" (Record). He graduated from the Academy on 8 June 1900 (George W. Steele, Jr.).

First Years in the Navy

USS Pennsylvania
Following his graduation from the Academy, Steele was assigned to the USS Brooklyn on Asiatic Station by choice. He arrived during the Boxer War in China. During this assignment he received a medal for conspicuous service (Record). In June of 1902 Steele was commissioned as an Ensign in the Navy. Following his commission he joined the USS San Francisco in Norfolk, Virginia (George W. Steele, Jr.). During his service on the San Francisco he took part in the international naval races in Kiel, Germany. Steele won the top prize and was presented with the winner's cup by the Kaiser of Germany. Following this, the San Francisco was ordered to Beirut, where Steele took part in the rescue of the American Consul. After this the San Francisco was transferred to Asiatic Station and Steele was offered command of the destroyer USS Barry. After one year Steele was transferred to the USS Illinois. While on board the Illinois, Steele took part in the Great White Fleet's cruise around the world. Following this, Illinois was moved to Rome. Steele participated in the recovery of bodies after the Messina earthquake. For this Steele received a medal from the Italian government. In 1912, Steele was assigned to the USS California as navigator. California was sent to Nicaragua to restore order. Steele led 400 Marines ashore and rebuilt many roads and bridges within three days. For this he received numerous commendations. When the United States entered World War I, Steele was serving as navigator on board the Battleship USS Pennsylvania (pictured above). He was then transferred to the USS Henderson, where he immediately took command (Record).

USS Los Angeles

The USS Los Angeles, which was commanded by George W. Steele
The newly arrived airship, the USS Los Angeles, was much heralded and its crew was treated like heroes upon arrival. There was a large parade in New York City and the President received them at the White House. ZR-3 was readied for her first official flight in the United States Navy in November. This flight took place on 25 November 1924. She was flown to Anacostia Naval Air Station near Washington for commissioning into the United States Navy. Steele was on board, but he was ill and contributed little to the voyage. ZR-3 arrived in Anacostia to be christened later that day. Mrs. Calvin Coolidge christened the ship USS Los Angeles and presented her to Captain Steele for command. President Coolidge came aboard for a party and official tour (Althoff 55-57). Los Angeles was christened with a bottle of water from the River Jordan, since prohibition of alcohol prevented the use of the much more appropriate champagne. President Coolidge's tour was the first and only time a United States President came aboard an airship. Immediately after the President's departure, Commander Jacob Klein relieved Steele of command due to Steele's illness . The Los Angeles then hastily returned to Lakehurst (Keller and Robinson 140).

Captain Steele continued his command of Los Angeles during its deployment to Puerto Rico in April of 1925. He remained in his cabin for much of the trip owing to illness. During this deployment Los Angeles and Patoka continued exercises. Once the tail fin of Los Angeles tilted dangerously and hit the water. On May 8, Los Angeles began her trip back to Lakehurst. The Puerto Rico deployment marked the first time Patoka had been used as a mobile airship base. The Bureau of Airships planned to have enough helium to operate both USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) and USS Los Angeles by August 1, 1925. In the meantime, the Los Angeles was to make local passenger flights and travel to Annapolis for "June Week." Los Angeles made three flights with distinguished guests. She returned from her flights on June 3 and Captain Steele received orders to fly to Minneapolis via Dearborn, Michigan. Steele was uncomfortable with the notion of flying over the Midwest in early summer and he let his reservations be known. Nevertheless, Los Angeles departed Lakehurst on June 7. Nine hours after departure engine #5 had to be shut down with a burned-out connecting rod bearing. Steele became concerned about the other engines due to their extensive flight time. He continued on to Cleveland then decided to turn back for Lakehurst. Los Angeles returned to Lakehurst on the morning of May 8. Captain Steele felt that his ship could not fly again without an overhaul (Keller and Robinson 143-45).

USS Pittsburgh

Captain Steele was given command of USS Pittsburgh, flagship of the Asiatic Fleet (George W. Steele, Jr.). Early in 1927 Steele's ship landed sailors and Marines in Shanghai to protect Americans and other foreigners present in the city. Pittsburgh returned to her station at sea after Chiang Kai-shek's Cantonese army took control of Shanghai in March (Hansen). Following this duty, Steele was transferred to Paris, France in 1928 to serve as United States Naval Attaché. He continued this duty until 1931 serving in Madrid, Spain and Lisbon, Portugal in the same capacity (George W. Steele, Jr.).

USS Saratoga

The USS Saratoga
Steele was then transferred back to the United States where he commanded Aircraft, Scouting Force, and Carrier Division One. In July of 1932, he was given the prestigious command of the USS Saratoga, the third aircraft carrier in the United States Navy. It seemed certain that Captain Steele would soon be promoted to Admiral. These hopes were dashed when Saratoga ran aground in foggy weather later that year. Steele successfully refloated the ship with no damage. Though he was not responsible, Steele was court-martialed in October. He was then passed over for promotion in December. He retired from the Navy on December 31, 1932 after 36 years of service in the United States Navy (George W. Steele, Jr.).

Works Consulted

  • Althoff, William F. Skyships. New York: Orion, 1990.
  • "Captain George W. Steele, Jr., U.S. Navy, Retired" is a United States Navy Biography. from 1953 describing Captain Steele's career. It was found in the Indiana Room in the Marion Public Library under the vertical file, Steele, George W. Jr.
  • "Capt. G.W. Steele, Dirigible Expert" is an obituary from the New York Times from 1955. It was found in the Indiana Room in the Marion Public Library under the vertical file, Steele, George W. Jr.
  • "CAPT. STEELE GIVEN ROYAL WELCOME" is a newspaper article from the Marion Leader Tribune from 1924. It was found in the Indiana Room in the Marion Public Library under the vertical file, Steele, George W. Jr.
  • Hansen, Michael. PITTSBURGH. (8 May 2000).
  • "Indiana War History Records" is a war record and attached George W. Steele, Jr. from World War I. It was found in the Indiana Room in the Marion Public Library under the vertical file, Steele, George W. Jr.
  • Keller, Charles L., and Douglas H. Robinson. Up Ship! Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute, 1982.
  • "Personal Log" is an excerpt from the personal log of Capt. Steele during his journey aboard ZR-3. It was found in the Indiana Room in the Marion Public Library under the vertical file, Steele, George W. Jr.

External Links

This article was written by Matt Eckerle. The original presentation is available here[1].