William Britt came to Skagway from Norway in the gold rush and worked as a druggist and was a member of the Arctic Brotherhood and City Council by 1905. He met and married Sophia and they had a son, Jacob William Britt born here in Skagway in 1905 or 1906.
Jacob lived in Alaska until about 1930 and then joined the Navy. He married and moved to San Diego by 1940. By 1942 Lt. Commander Britt was in the South Pacific in command of the Asheville (PG-21)
(The Asheville was built in Charleston N.C. and launched on July 4, 1918. It underwent several overhauls and was known as PG-21.)
On the morning of 1 March 1942, Vice Admiral William A. Glassford, Commander, Southwest Pacific Force (formerly the U.S. Asiatic Fleet) ordered American naval vessels to retire to Australian waters. During World War 2, Lt. Jacob W. Britt was in command of the Asheville (PG-21) when he was ordered to leave Tjilatjap, Java, on 1 March 1942, bound for Fremantle. At 0615 on 2 March, Tulsa sighted a ship, and identified her as Asheville—probably the last time the latter was in sight of friendly forces. During the forenoon watch on 3 March, Asheville radioed “being attacked,” some 300 miles south of Java. The minesweeper Whippoorwill (AM-35), heard the initial distress call and turned toward the reported position some 90 miles away. When a second report specified that the ship was being attacked by a surface vessel, however, Whippoorwill‘s captain, Lt. Comdr. Charles R. Ferriter, reasoning correctly that “any surface vessel that could successfully attack the Asheville would be too much” for his own command, ordered the minesweeper to resume her voyage to Australia.
Asheville, presumed lost, was stricken from the Navy list on 8 May 1942. Not until after World War II, however, did the story of her last battle emerge, when a survivor of heavy cruiser Houston (CA-30), told of meeting, in prison camp, Fireman 1st Class Fred L. Brown, 18 years old, had been in the gunboat’s fireroom when a Japanese surface force (Vice Admiral Kondo Nobutake) had overtaken the ship on 3 March 1942. Destroyers Arashi (Commander Watanabe Yasumasa) and Nowaki (Commander Koga Magatarou) overwhelmed Asheville, scoring hits on her forecastle and bridge; many men topside were dead by the time Brown arrived topside to abandon ship. All 160 men were lost.
A sailor on board one of the enemy destroyers threw out a line, which Brown grasped and was hauled on board. Sadly, Asheville‘s only known survivor perished in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp on 18 March 1945.
Lt. Commander Britt born in Skagway Alaska was killed in action in the South Pacific on March 3, 1942.
http://toto.lib.unca.edu/findingaids/mss/ashe_walter/default_ashe.html; 1910 census for Skagway; family search. The Asheville is seen above.
President Warren Harding visited Skagway on July 11, 1923. Leaving here, he re-boarded the USS Henderson on his trip south to San Francisco where he died. Another ship in the presidential fleet was the USS Seattle. Both ships were involved in accidents in the days that followed: the USS Henderson was rammed by the USS Zeiler in Puget Sound and the USS Seattle ran aground in the Sound. Barely two months later, one of the biggest disasters in US Naval History occurred which I will summarize briefly here.
On September 2, 1923 there was a massive earthquake in Japan, the resulting tsunami and strong currents reached the California coast just as a heavy fog further complicated navigation. On September 8, in the dark of night, the passenger steamer Cuba went aground on San Miguel Island. My husband and I lived on San Miguel once, 30 years ago, and the remnants of that shipwreck were still visible on the beach at certain times when we lived there.
Tragically, on that same day there were 14 new sleek “flush deck” destroyers that the Navy was testing at full battle speed on a mission from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The Navy was anxious to prove their worth since President Harding had been a staunch supporter of Navy funding, but with his death, the subsequent administration was not. Unfortunately, that night, at 9 pm, a total of nine destroyers plowed, at 20 knots into the California coast, at a place called the Devil’s Jaw near Santa Barbara. Seven were completely destroyed and 23 sailors died. The dramatic full story of the crash, heroism and tragedy can be read here:
McAndrew was born June 29, 1862 in Pennsylvania and graduated from West Point and the Army Staff College and War College. He was said to be a brilliant infantry officer. He was a Captain with the 3rd Infantry when he arrived in Skagway in 1905-6. In 1911 he was promoted to Major and when the Great War broke out he was a Lieutenant Colonel. By May 3, 1918, Major General McAndrew was appointed Chief of Staff of the American Expeditionary Forces in France under General Pershing. He served in that capacity for a year and then retired back to Washington D.C. and died at Walter Reed hospital on April 30, 1922 at the age of 60. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
NY Times May 4, 1918Read More
Loring and Mary Wilkes came to Skagway from Nebraska in the gold rush with their little son Mark Edward. Loring worked as a cook but in 1948 wrote: “Packers on the Dyea Trail” in the Alaska Sportsman (June). His son Mark went to World War One and listed Skagway as his home town.
Mark Edward Wilkes disappeared on this day, November 13, 1918 in France, perhaps near Exermont or Nantillois. Many officers – Majors Murray Davis and Fred A. Cook, Captains Joseph G. Duncan, Edgar Hayden Dale, James C. Kenady all died as well as many Lieutanants, Sergeants, Corporals and privates. Sadly, the Great War in Europe ended on November 11, two days prior to the announcement of the many deaths.
In September and October 1918, the 35th Division was attempting to reach the village of Exermont. The church and town were nearly destroyed near the Chaudron Farm Road by a counter attack of the German Army on September 29, 1918. Seen above are some of the American soldiers in the church there. There is a memorial in the town to the fallen soldiers which is perhaps the only marker that Private Wilkes has since he was listed as MIA. Below is the marker in Skagway which does not bear his name.
Captain Jackson arrived in Skagway on July 9, 1904 with the Third Infantry. He was the Quartermaster. He was born on Feb 11, 1869 in Palmyra, Missouri and went to West Point where he graduated in 1891. After serving in Skagway for a year, he married Julia Carr in Galesburg, Illinois (seen above – Julia looks a little wiped out here).
Jackson stayed in the Army becoming a Major General. In World War One he received the Army Distinguished Service Medal for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished services to the Government of the United States, in a duty of great responsibility during World War I, as Brigade Commander, 74th Infantry Brigade, 37th Division, American Expeditionary Forces, in operations against the enemy in France.
Brigadier General Jackson died on January 13, 1945 in San Francisco where he is buried.Read More
William Yanert was born in 1864 in Prussia, or Poland. He was a cartographer with the 14th Infantry and arrived in Skagway on this day, December 16, 1897 to map things. He left the army and made his way to a remote spot in Alaska in 1901 where he built a cabin and called it Purgatory. When asked why he named it so, he said “It was a hell of a place to live.” It is 45 miles downstream from Beaver, Alaska on the Yukon River. In 1910 his brother, seen with him above, joined him and he lived there for thirty-seven years. During that time he hunted, fished, wrote poetry and created art carvings which he sold to tourists who happened by on steamships up the river. They were entertained by his harmless pranks, his wit and gentle spirit. How many times have you heard people say they just want to go live in a cabin in the woods? Seems he did and enjoyed his life there. He died in 1941 in Portland but was buried in Beaver, Alaska.
online obits; Lung-Trail to north Star gold p 323; “Sergeant William Yanert, Cartographer from Hell,” by Thom Eley, Professor at Univ of Alaska, Anchorage.Read More