It was a warm Saturday morning when the USS Vestal (AR-4) slowly but expertly maneuvered alongside the great battleship. As lines went over to secure the two ships snugly together, it was evident to any objective observer that this was an incongruent pairing. The battleship was nearly 150 feet longer and more than double the displacement, but the most notable difference to a seasoned sailor’s eye was in the two ships’ armament. In the morning sun, a main battery of 12 14-inch guns cast long shadows across the battleship’s holystoned deck, a menacing contrast to the assortment of minor-caliber weapons that made up the entirety of the Vestal’s combat capability.
In fairness, combat was not the Vestal’s main purpose. Unlike her nest mate, her potency was best realized in port, rather than on the high seas. She had begun her life in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1904 as a collier, but in 1913 she had been reconfigured as a fleet repair ship. When her crew of 600 went into action, they boarded other ships with hammers and lube-oil guns rather than cutlasses and pistols.