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Photo # NH 52365:  USS Jupiter in 1913

Online Library of Selected Images:

World War I Era Colliers --
Organized by Type

During the period from 1898 to 1920 the Navy had two basic categories of logistics support ships: colliers (later renamed fuel ships to allow the inclusion of oil tankers) and supply ships. The ships classified as colliers by the U.S. Navy between 1898 and 1920 fell into two groups: regular cargo ships acquired in 1898 and used as colliers, and bulk cargo ships with specialized coal handling gear built by the Navy as colliers that could refuel combatant ships rapidly. The units of both types that were still being used as coal carriers were designated colliers (AC) under the 1920 classification scheme. The 1898 ships were essentially indistinguishable from regular cargo ships of their vintage (which, however, was archaic by World War I era standards) while the Navy-built ships had a highly distinctive appearance. Both groups are listed below. Both groups also contain ships of their types that had been reassigned before World War I to missions other than carrying coal, and the Navy built group includes one ship that had been lost before the war.

The U.S. merchant marine also contained ships that had been specially built as colliers, primarily for the coastal coal trade. These tended to be bulk cargo ships with large hatch covers, sometimes handled by numerous pairs of short kingposts, to allow rapid loading at coal piers. Some of these found their way into NOTS during World War I. They were, however, used practically without exception to carry general cargo and are thus also listed on the page for World War I Era Cargo Ships.

Caution: Not every ship bearing the characteristics shown on these pages was commissioned in the U.S. Navy. There were many World War I era ships, large and small, that were employed by the U.S. Government under commercial charter, or which operated under the flags of the United Kingdom, France, Italy and other nations. Many of these closely resemble ships that did serve in the U.S. Navy, and a large proportion wore pattern camouflage schemes very much like those carried by the Navy's ships. Approach any ship identification task with this firmly in mind!

A Note on Sources: Tonnage (in gross tons except for ships built by the Navy) and dimensions were taken from a file of World War I-era ship data cards now in the custody of the Naval Historical Center and from the 1918 and 1919 editions of the Ships Data Book (whose data usually matches that on the cards). Additional information came from Lewis P. Clephane, History of the Naval Overseas Transportation Service in World War I,, published by the Naval History Division, Washington, D.C., in 1969, and also from the 1918-1919 and 1919-1920 editions of Lloyds Register of Shipping and the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

This page features a list of groups of World War I era U.S. Navy colliers, defined by ships' physical characteristics, with links to pages dedicated to each group of ships. Those pages provide further links to the individual ships in each group. Representative photographs are also presented for ship groups and for individual vessels.

If you want higher resolution reproductions than the digital images presented here, see: "How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions."

  • In the listings below, click the Number (of) Ships entry to access a table of the individual U.S. Navy ships with that specific group's characteristics.
  • Click the small photographs to access the Picture Data Sheets for those images.

  • Photo # NH 82187:  USS Nanshan in 1919

    WWI era U.S. Navy colliers of the cargo ship type acquired in 1898:


  • Photo # NH 52365:  USS Jupiter in 1913

    WWI era U.S. Navy colliers with specialized coal handling gear built by the Navy:


  • NOTES:

  • To the best of our knowledge, the pictures referenced here are all in the Public Domain, and can therefore be freely downloaded and used for any purpose.

  • Some images linked from this page may bear obsolete credit lines citing the organization name: "Naval Historical Center". Effective 1 December 2008 the name should be cited as: "Naval History and Heritage Command".

    If you want higher resolution reproductions than the digital images presented here, see: "How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions."

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    Page made 5 January 2008
    Coding updated 11 May 2009