From: Dictionary of American Fighting Ships


A former name retained.

(PY - 10; t. 710 ; l. 245'3"; b. 27'9"; dr. 8'6"; s. 26 k.; a. 4 3")

Isabel, a yacht, built in 1917 by Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, was acquired before completion by the Navy from her owner, automobile manufacturer John North Willys of Toledo, Ohio ; converted to Navy use as a destroyer ; and commissioned 28 December 1917, Lt. Comdr. Harry E. Shoemaker in command.

Isabel sailed 28 January 1918 for France via Bermuda and the Azores. While performing coastal convoy duty, she fought German submarines on four occasions. On 18 March she joined Reid in an attack on a submarine, and the two ships were credited with sinking her. However, evidence later gathered indicated that the submarine probably escaped.

Lt. Comdr. Harry E. Shoemaker received the Navy Cross "for distinguished service ... as commanding officer of ... Isabel, engaged in the important, exacting and hazardous duty of transporting and escorting troops and supplies through waters infested with enemy submarines and mines." He was relieved by Lt. Lewis W. Comstock 24 July.

Isabel continued protecting convoys carrying troops and supplies to France until the end of the war. Arriving Boston 2 January 1919, Isabel was assigned to recruiting duty for the Navy, sailing up the Mississippi River 14 May 1919 and stopping at various cities along the way to St. Louis. Returning to New Orleans 20 August, she was soon underway for Rockaway Beach, Long Island, for duty as a tender for the famous flying boats of the NC-4 Flotilla. Reporting 18 September, she cruised the Atlantic Coast with the aircraft from Maine to Florida before returning to Rockaway Beach 4 January 1920. Isabel decommissioned at Philadelphia 30 April 1920.

Recommissioning at Philadelphia 18 July 1921, Isabel sailed for the Far East 21 August 1921 to join the famous Yangtze Patrol. Transiting the Panama Canal she arrived Hong Kong 7 November. During the tumultuous years that followed in China, Isabel served as a member of the patrol and as its flagship, charged with protecting American commerce from pirates and American nationals from the dangers of constant civil war. Based at Shanghai, Isabel spent the low water period on the river at Hankow, returning to the coast in the summer. She and the other small gunboats of the Navy in China performed the arduous task of protecting American interests during numerous incidents and threats to American nationals. On many occasions the ship came under fire, as in October 1926 when she was caught between the rifle fire of opposing Chinese armies on the Yangtze. Isabel also took part in the Nanking affair, when shelling and threats of force procured the release of a large group of American and British prisoners held by the nationalists in the city. She patrolled the 1,700 miles of dangerous river until 1928, when she joined the Asiatic Fleet.

Isabel spent the 1930s with the Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines and China, much of the time as flagship at Manila. In December 1941, as the threat of war grew ever larger, the small ship was readied for action and sent out on orders from President Roosevelt to make a reconnaissance of the coast of Indo China. She was ordered to return to Manila 5 December, and was nearing that port when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor two days later.

Admiral Hart sent this ominous message early on 8 December to the far-flung units of the Asiatic Fleet: "Japan started hostilities. Govern yourselves accordingly." Japanese planes raided Clark Field that day and Manila 10 December. At Cavite Navy Yard eight bombs, all duds, ringed Isabel's fantail; she brought down one of the attackers.

For the next month Isabel operated as an antisubmarine escort for convoys in the East Indies, as the Allies tried desperately to stem the tide of Japanese conquest. She underwent air raids at Batavia, Palembang, and Tjilatap [sic; Tjilatjap], escaping from several ports only days ahead of the invasion forces. On the way back from convoy assignment 7 February 1942, Isabel was sent to rescue survivors from Dutch merchantman Van Cloon near Surabaya. As she picked up survivors from the torpedoed vessel, the enemy submarine surfaced nearby. Isabel quickly drove the sub down with gunfire, and assisted a patrolling Catalina in dropping depth charges to drive it from the area.

The Battle of the Java Sea in late February saw outnumbered Allied naval units fail in their gallant actions to stop the invasion of Java which resulted in Japanese control of the Malay barrier.

Isabel arrived in Australia 7 March 1942 after seeing Asheville sunk in numerous air raids south of Java. Based at Fremantle, she took up new duties as escort and training ship for the submarines which now made that Australian port their base. She helped keep allied submarines in top tactical shape, and thus contributed to the mighty toll taken by them on Japanese shipping and warships. Isabel remained on this duty until 27 August 1945, when she sailed eastward, stopping at various Pacific islands and arriving San Francisco 26 October 1945. The gallant ship, her long career in two wars ended, decommissioned 11 February 1946 and was sold for scrapping 25 March 1946.

Isabel received one battle star for World War II service.

[Transcriber's note: Isabel was launched 7 June 1917; purchased 3 July 1917 before completion and numbered SP-521. Her torpedo tubes were later removed and she was designated as an armed yacht (PY-10) on 17 July 1920.

K. Jack Bauer and Stephen S. Roberts, "Register of Ships of the U. S. Navy, 1775-1990," p. 298.]

Transcribed by Yves HUBERT (