Kanawha Class, U.S. Fleet Oilers

Photograph of USS Kanawha

Navy Yard Mare Island photo # AO 1 51-1-43, 1/2/43. Via


Tonnage 5723 tons light
14,800 tons full
Dimensions 476' by 56' by 28'
145.1m by 17.1m by 8.5m
Maximum speed       12 knots
Complement 475
2-shaft triple-expansion reciprocating (5200 shp)
Four boilers
Armament 2 5"/38 dual-purpose guns
8 40mm Bofors AA guns
8 20mm Oerlikon AA guns

The Kanawhas were completed in 1915-1922. They were the first ships purpose-built for the Navy as fleet oilers, with prominent centerline booms to carry several refueling hoses to both sides of the ship. These proved clumsy and were later replaced with kingposts and davits. Kanawha and most of her sisters were completed with unusually powerful triple-expansion reciprocating engines, yielding about twice the power of conventional merchant tankers of the day. Maumee was given experimental diesel engines, the Navy reasoning that this would allow a good comparison with the otherwise identical Kanawha. The executive and engineering officer of Maumee, a young submarine officer with more experience with diesel engines than any other officer in the Navy, was Lieutenant Chester Nimitz, later commander of the Pacific Fleet during the Pacific War.

The officers of Maumee speculated about the possibility of refueling ships under way, which had never been attempted before except in the calmest conditions. The crew obtained schematics for destroyers and sketched out schemes for refueling at sea, but it was not until the U.S. Fleet began deploying its destroyers to Europe after the U.S. intervention in the First World War that Maumee began experimenting with underway replenishment. The approach used was broadside refueling, where the ship being refueled came alongside the Maumee. However, at this early stage in the development of the technique, the destroyer was towed by the oiler, rather than keeping station under its own power.

The Kanawhas were becoming elderly by the start of the Pacific War. They were slow and limited in capacity compared with more modern oilers.

Units in the Pacific:

Kanawha       Mare Island       Sunk by aircraft 1943-4-8 off Tulagi
San Diego

Off Kodiak Island     

En route Pearl Harbor from San Diego      
Torpedoed 1942-1-23 by I-72
Sunk by aircraft 1942-3-1 off Christmas Island
Arrived 1945-7-1


DANFS (accessed 2007-7-7)
Wildenberg (1996)

Worth (2001)

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