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Harley L. Colwell

Harley L Colwell as seen as a Chief Electrician aboard the USS F-4
Harley L Colwell as seen as a Chief Electrician aboard the USS F-4

Harley L Colwell was born in The Dalles, Oregon in May of 1888 to parents; James L Colwell and Mary J Colwell. James Colwell was a blacksmith and the family traveled a lot in the course of his job. It seems he worked mainly in Mining and Logging camps repairing and making tools and machinery for the camps. Harley had an older sister named Cecile who was two years older. Some reports about Mary Colwell say she was Mulatto but this is refuted by others.

At age 1 Harley was living with his family in Washington State and is included in the states first census after it gained statehood in 1889.

By 1910 the family in living in a small town in Eastern Washington called Silver in the Methow Valley. The town of Silver no longer exists. It was a little over 3 miles North of the present town of Methow. They had moved there from Siwash, in Okanogan County, another little mining town now just a name in history, farther east and north, also in Washington State.

Harley L Colwell as an Electrician 3rd/Class aboard the USS Colorado
Harley L Colwell as an Electrician 3rd/Class aboard the USS Colorado
By the US Census taken on the 28th of July, 1910 at Bremerton, Washington, Harley was in the Navy and stationed aboard the USS Colorado ARC-7, an Armored Cruiser of the Pennsylvania-class of armored cruisers. By the time of this census the Colorado had returned from a tour in the far east and Harley seems to have been aboard for that tour visiting China and the Philippines. He was 24 years old and an Electrician 3rd/Class. He could have joined the Navy as early as 1904 when he turned 18.

When Harley transferred to the submarine USS F-4 is not known at this time. The four 'F' Class submarines were towed to Honolulu Harbor from San Francisco in the summer of 1914. The submarines operated out of Piers 5 and 5A in Honolulu Harbor that were leased from the City of Honolulu. There being no submarine facilities available at Pearl Harbor at that time, though the submarines had to go there for fueling and dry docking and repair work. It was mainly a coaling station for the larger ships.

The submarines conducted daily operations out of the Honolulu Harbor, many times diving with-in the harbor itself and traveling out the channel submerged as did the F-4 on that morning, March 25, 1915 taking Harley Colwell and the rest of his crew mates out of the harbor. On the way out she passed the F-1 on the surface entering the channel, fresh from her morning maneuvers. The F-4 turned her periscope to view her as they passed. The last person to see the F-4 was Ensign Harry Bogusch, the executive officer of the USS F-1. He was on deck and waved his hat to the periscope as the two passed.

The F-4 continued to the operating area and began her drills but the submarine had a weakened hull from battery acid sloshing out of the lead lined battery well 'slosh tank', it had been corroding hull rivets and hull plating weakening the submarines hull.

Harley Colwell would have been busy during the dive supervising his fellow Electricians in chasing down ground faults and trying to keep his panels dry. The early riveted hulls were notorious for leaking around the seams until external pressure squeezed them tight. The hulls also sweated from engine heat condensing on the hull interiors and dripping everywhere.

He might have been handling the Port and Starboard Field Rheostats and adjusting the two controller handles for the main propulsion motors at their station on the aft Control Room bulkhead, an area that was to evolve into a whole separate space called the 'Maneuvering Room'.

On this dive Colwell was short one of his Electricians, James M. Hoggett ET/3 was the designated man to stay ashore on this trip. Someone was usually left on the dock to be a point of contact and to watch the boats gear while it was doing training. As it was Hoggett was to be the only F-4 crewman to not die that day. He was to help in the salvage efforts.

As the F-4 went deeper the hull began to leak and it could not be stopped. The crew did all they could and tried to blow themselves to the surface as the position of all the valves indicated. When that failed to work most of the crew, Harley included, moved into the engine room and dogged the door. As the submarine went deeper the water pressure collapsed the weakened hull on the port side of the battery area flooding the boat. Water pressure overcame the bulkhead and its door seal and the engine compartment filled with water, killing the crew.

Harley L Colwell was 29 years old, single and a Chief Electricians Mate at that time.

His father was living in Seattle, Washington when he heard the news of his sons' death.

Seventeen members of the crew were not able to be identified by the time the salvage operation was completed, Harley was one of that number. These men were placed in four caskets that were buried in a single grave, on October 23, 1915, with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, Plot: Sec: 2, Site: 3387.

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