The Mystery of the H.M.S. Ravenna

The U.S.S. New Orleans

Shortly after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States government purchased a Brazilian navy cruiser that had recently been built at a British shipyard. The ship was christened the U.S.S. New Orleans (CL-22) and remained in service until 1922. Being of British manufacture, the cruiser was armed with British guns that required British ammunition. This was a bit of a problem, since neutrality laws made it illegal for the U.S. to purchase the required ammunition from England.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, an English East India Company steamer, the H.M.S. Ravenna, deviated, for some unknown reason, from her usual course and arrived in Antwerp where, according to the ship's manifest, she took on ballast. This ballast was neatly boxed and handled with great care as it was loaded into the Ravenna's cargo hold. The steamer then went back out to sea and was never seen again.

Interestingly, the disappearance of the Ravenna coincides strangely with the timely appearance of an unknown ship that was discovered by a United States patrol boat floating about 200 miles off Sandy Hook. When the patrol boat discovered this vessel, the crew was perplexed and bewildered-- while the ship was in excellent condition and appeared not the least bit damaged, there was not a soul on board.

Stranger still was the fact that in her hold was neatly boxed cargo. Upon the steamer's hull was painted the ship's name, Scipio.

The patrol boat towed the Scipio to shore, and the mystery ship was docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Workers unloaded the neatly-boxed ballast from the cargo hold of the Scipio without asking questions. And they didn't ask any questions when they were ordered to load the Scipio's strange cargo onto the U.S.S. New Orleans.

And nobody seemed to ask any questions when the U.S.S. New Orleans suddenly had an abundance of ammunition, even though it was the only ship in the U.S. Navy that used smokeless powder during the war.
And nobody asked questions when, in September of 1898, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was opened to the public and there, lying snugly in the "boneyard" where forgotten ships rust away into nothingness, languished a steamer with the name Scipio painted in white lettering on its hull. In time the elements caused the white painted letters to fade and flake away, revealing another set of letters, faint yet distinguishable, reading Ravenna.

While official records fail to explain how the U.S.S. New Orleans obtained its ammunition, the evidence suggests that the United States managed to circumvent international law with the aid of the British, by towing ashore the H.M.S. Ravenna-- disguised as an abandoned derelict-- with its cargo hold filled to the brim with illegal ammunition.