On June 3, 1930, the USS COLORADO was heading for Colon in the Panama Canal Zone under full steam. Her destination was near at hand. Suddenly and without warning, flames broke out in the plotting room, brain center of the ship’s control of her 16-inch guns. Deadly chlorine fumes combined with thick smoke to form a lethal cloud in the center of the below-deck spaces. Captain W. S. Miller, commanding officer at that time, personally directed the fire-fighting groups. Almost forty sailors were overcome by the fumes only to be rescued by their mates.
The conflagration spread despite the frenzied efforts to curb it, and the battle to extinguish the flames continued for some eight hours. Finally the Captain reluctantly ordered the plotting room and adjacent area flooded with sea water – an unavoidable step that ruined most of the delicate control apparatus not already destroyed by the raging fire. The battleship was promptly detached from the fleet and proceeded on to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for repairs.
Dissatisfied with the explanation of what had caused 200 thousand dollars damage to one of the world’s foremost naval vessels, Navy Secretary Charles Francis Adams established an investigating committee, ordered Rear Admiral de Steiguer to press it to a conclusion.
The fire’s origin was determined. Phonograph needles or something like them had been pierced through the insulation of the electric cables in the ship’s plotting room and a short circuit had resulted. The identity of the fire’s perpetrators remained undetermined.
The ’30s were the piping years of peace. Battleship COLORADO churned nonchalantly throughout the Pacific Ocean, engaging in endless tests and practices, anchoring in fabulous South Pacific ports of call, protecting American interests throughout the broad expanse of that ocean. About every two years she would journey to the Atlantic and there participate in
battle problems. Meanwhile, underneath the universal cloak of tranquility, ominous rumblings were apparent to those who would listen. The COLORADO’s day was not far off.
In July of 1937 famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her co-pilot Captain Fred Noonan were making a flight from New Guinea to the Howland Islands. As the plane took off from the New Guinea landing-strip and soared, the world had its last look at one of it’s outstanding heroines. The world waited as the Navy prowled through Japanese-mandate waters in search of the missing aircraft. The COLORADO, who was at that time acting as training ship for units of the Naval R.O.T.C. from the Universities of Washington and California, quickly interrupted her reserve cruise and geared into action.
Her three single float seaplanes were catapulted into the air over the Phoenix Island Group while the battleship probed in dangerously shallow waters near reefs and sand banks. Under Captain William L. Friedell, the COLORADO kept up her search for almost a week but the flame of hope flickered with her R.O.T.C. cruise. Never has the question mark which ended the Earhart disappearance become a period.