USS Vixen (PY-4)

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USS Vixen
Die Vixen (PY-4) im Jahr 1898
The Vixen (PY-4) in 1898
Ship data
Flag United StatesVereinigte Staaten (Nationalflagge) United States
Ship type Gunboat
Class Single ship
Building yard Crescent Shipyard, Elizabethport
Launch June 1896
Commissioning 11. April 1898
Decommissioning 15. November 1922
Removal from the register of ships 9. January 1923
Whereabouts Sold in June 1923, presumably lost through shipwreck in 1929
Ship dimensions and crew
55.54 m (Lüa)
Wide 8,53 m
Draft max. 3,90 m
Displacement Construction: 545 ts
Maximum: 806 ts
Crew 82 men (1898)
105 men (1921)
Machine system
Machine 2 boilers
1 (vertical) three-cylinder triple expansion machine
1 shaft
1.250 hp (919 kW)
Maximum speed 16.0 kn (30 km/h)
Propeller 1 (three-winged)

circa 1898

  • 4 × 5.7 cm Hotchkiss guns
  • 4 × 3,7-cm-Maxim-Nordenfeldt cannons

around 1911

  • 4 × 5.7 cm Hotchkiss guns
  • 3 × 4.7-cm Hotchkiss guns
  • 2 × 3.7-cm Maxim Nordenfeldt guns
  • 2 × 6 mm machine guns M1895

USS Vixen (designation: PY-4) was a gunboat of the United States Navy. The ship was originally commissioned under the name Josephine as a yacht for the American entrepreneur and art collector Peter Arrell Brown Widener and was launched in June 1896 at the Crescent Shipyard in Elizabethport (US state of New Jersey). In the run-up to the impending Spanish-American conflict, the U.S. Navy took delivery of the ship on 9 April 1898 and commissioned her two days later at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard under the new name Vixen (the English name for a female fox) as a patrol craft and gunboat. Lieutenant Alexander Sharp was in command.

Technology and armament

The 55.54 m long and 8.53 m wide Vixen had a steel hull and a 1,250 PSi triple-expansion engine as well as a schooner rig, which was rarely used in wartime, however, as the engine system already allowed the ship to reach a top speed of 16 knots.

After the ship was taken over by the U.S. Navy, the Vixen was armed with four 5.7-cm Hotchkiss guns and four 3.7-cm Maxim Nordenfeldt machine guns in single emplacement. This armament remained unchanged until 1905, when two of the 3.7-cm guns were removed from the ship and replaced by two Colt-Browning M1895 6-mm machine guns. Around 1911, the Vixen was also temporarily equipped with three 4.7-cm Hotchkiss guns, but these were gradually removed from the ship by 1912.

Service time

After the takeover of the ship by the United States Navy and the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the Vixen sailed for Cuba in May 1898 and joined the American blockade fleet off Santiago de Cuba in June, where Admiral Pascual Cervera’s Spanish 1st Squadron was berthed. On board were, among others, then Colonel (and later U.S. President) Theodore Roosevelt, who would later gain notoriety in the war as commander of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry (the so-called Rough Riders), and Midshipman Thomas C. Hart, who later made a career as an admiral in the U.S. Navy and who temporarily commanded the Allied ABDA fleet in Southeast Asia during World War II.

Naval battle off Santiago de Cuba

On 3 July 1898, the Vixen took part in the naval battle off Santiago de Cuba. When the Spanish fleet broke out of the harbor, the gunboat was about four nautical miles southwest of the harbor exit. Nevertheless, the Vixen did not take an active part in the fighting during the first 90 minutes, which was mostly fought by the ships of the line and armored cruisers. Around 11:00, the small ship briefly engaged the heavily damaged Spanish armored cruiser Vizcaya, which was already steering toward shore. After a brief exchange of fire, though no hits were scored, the Spanish ship ran aground and struck the flag. Afterwards, the Vixen briefly joined in the pursuit of the fleeing armored cruiser Cristóbal Colón. After the end of the battle, the ship remained in Cuban waters for the time being and took over security duties.

Period of use from 1899 to 1923

After the end of the Spanish-American War, the gunboat transferred first to New York in the fall of 1898, then to Norfolk Naval Base in October. There, the Vixen was temporarily placed in reserve in January 1899. After barely three months, the gunboat was reactivated and between March 1899 and 1906 was used as a mail and supply ship in the Caribbean and off Cuba. At times, the Vixen also served as a tender for the monitor USS Amphitrite, berthed at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. During a short shipyard overhaul in 1905, two of the 3.7-cm guns were removed from the ship and replaced by two Colt-Browning M1895 machine guns.

Placed in reserve again between March 1906 and December 1907, Vixen was transferred to the New Jersey State Naval Militia as a patrol craft in the winter of 1907/08 and served there until 1917. This uneventful period of service consisted primarily of patrol and guard duty off the east coast of the United States. Between 1917 and 1922, Vixen was berthed as a station ship at Saint Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands), during which time she was reclassified as a Patrol Yacht in July 1920 with the designation PY-4. The old ship was finally decommissioned on 15 November 1922 and struck from the Naval Register on 9 January 1923.


The exact whereabouts of the ship are only fragmentarily known. In June 1923, the Vixen was dismantled and sold to the New York-based Fair Oaks Steamship Corporation, which used the former gunboat under the new name Tamiami Queen. Around 1924, the ship is said to have been renamed Collier County and probably carried that name into 1928. After that, the old gunboat’s trail is lost. In the winter of 1928/29, the former yacht may have been identical to the small mail ship Princess Montagu, which was wrecked in a spring storm in March 1929. However, it is not known when a possible renaming may have taken place.


  • Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Volume VII (V – T), 1981, p. 552.

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