Warship Wednesday Jan.7, the Coasties on Point
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period (sometimes reaching past that as with today’s post) and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger.
Warship Wednesday, Jan.7, the Coasties on Point
Here we see the United States Coast Guard Cutter Point Hudson (WPB-82322) racing into action “somewhere off the coast of South Vietnam” in 1966. Commissioned in 1961, Point Hudson had but four years of stateside service based in Panama City, Florida before she was made part of Division 13/Coast Guard Squadron One where she served for five years before her transfer to the Republic of Vietnam Navy as RVNS Đặng Văn Hoành (HQ-707) on 11 Dec 1969. Her story, as is that of the other legion of her class, is rather interesting.
In the 42+ years between 5 October 1960 and 28 March 2003, the US Coast Guard commissioned and used 79 “Point” class patrol boats (WPB). The U.S. Coast Guard defines a “Cutter” as a vessel over 100 feet in length, having crew accommodations for extended operations, as these 82-foot vessels met all of those requirements sans length they were only given hull numbers until 1964 when the service changed their mind and began to issue names to cutters larger than 65 feet. Therefore, all were named after various geographical “Points” in the country.
These 60-ton craft, capable of floating in just 6-feet of seawater, were armed at first with WWII surplus Oerlikon 20 mm cannons and equipped with a pair of 600hp Cummins diesels that could putter them around at 16-ish knots. That was the 1959 design concept. This was later increased to a pair of 800hp diesels (which increased speed to over 22-knots when clean) and one hull (Point Thatcher) had an experimental pair of Saturn gas turbines with 1100 HP each, manufactured by Solar Aircraft Co that could break over 25.
Steel-hulled and with a then-novel aluminum superstructure, these hardy boats replaced the old 83-foot splinter boats that were leftover from the War. Designed for search and rescue and law enforcement missions, they logically were soon sent around the world to a combat zone. Capable of putting to sea with just a 4-man crew, they typically had one twice that size to enable boarding parties.
During Vietnam, 26 of the class were sent overseas to RVN waters where they formed Coast Guard Squadron One in three divisions.To up their armament in their combat mission to control the Vietnamese littoral, these boats were given 5 M2 heavy machine guns (.50 cals), painted 20 shade grey, issued more sidearms to include M3 grease guns, the new M16 rifle, and Thompson submachine guns (not normally seen on Coast Guard cutters stateside),
…and were even fitted with a piggyback 81mm mortar.
According to the USCG Historians Office from which most of these pictures are drawn:
By the end of 1966 the twenty six 82 foot cutters of Squadron One, their eleven man crews and the support staff who kept the cutters and crews running, had reduced the estimated 70% of enemy’s supplies arriving by sea to less than 10 percent (U.S. Navy Proceedings June 1984, C.G. Reservist November 1996). This forced the enemy to transport most of their supplies over the more difficult and rugged Ho Chi Minh Trail. Fewer than 400 men made up USCG Squadron One in 1965 and 1966, yet in less than eighteen months, they had cut off 60 percent of the enemy’s total supplies that were arriving by sea. A remarkable job, when you think about it.
Seven Coast Guardsmen were killed and 59 wounded in South Vietnam. These included those who were involved in the tragic friendly fire incident on the Point Welcome.
While on a patrol in the waters near the mouth of the Cua Viet River, about three-quarters of a mile south of the demilitarized zone, the cutter was attacked by U.S. Air Force aircraft and repeatedly strafed. As a result, the cutter’s commanding officer, Lt. j.g. David Brostrom, along with one crewman, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jerry Phillips, was killed. Also wounded in this friendly fire were Point Welcome’s executive officer, Lt. j.g. Ross Bell; two other crewmen, Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark D. McKenney and Fireman Houston J. Davidson; a Vietnamese liaison officer, Lt. j.g. Do Viet Vien; and a freelance journalist, Timothy J. Page.
During their five years in South Vietnam the men of Squadron 1 put in yeoman’s work fighting armed junks and sampans, wearing out their diesels in constant patrol, and getting in intense firefights with shore-based troops:
-Patrolled 4,215,116 miles
-Detected 839,299 vessels
-Boarded 236,396 vessels
-Inspected 283,527 vessels
-Detained 10,286 personnel
-Engaged in 4,461 naval gunfire support missions
-Damaged or destroyed 1,811 vessels including several heavily armed NVA SL4-class trawlers
-Killed or wounded 1,232 enemy
-Damaged or destroyed 4,727 structures
And recreation was a matter of debate.
When the Coast Guard pulled out of Vietnam in 1971, the veteran Points there were handed over to the RVN Navy.
One of which, the former-Point Clear escaped to the Philippines in 1975 as the RVNS Huynh Van Cu and was used for several years by the Navy of the Philippines before being hulked at Subic Bay.
The Peoples Republic of Vietnam kept the 25 remaining Points in their possession, slowly disposing of them until the last of the group, Ngo Van Quyen (ex-USCGC Point Lomas), was cut up in 1988.
Post-Vietnam, the 53 remaining USCG Points were updated and kept in service. Their 20mm gun was replaced by a pair of single M2 mounts forward and then by the 1980s just carried sidearms.
They fought the war on drugs, saved countless lives, patrolled the border areas and Florida Straits for refugees, and even had a few uncomfortable standoffs with Cuban warships from time to time.
Of the 80 Points built for the Navy and Coast Guard, 54 were completed at the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis 1960-70 while the balance of 26 ships was completed by J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corp. 1966-67.
By 1990, the newest Point was over twenty years old and, even though re-engined with fresh Caterpillar Diesels, was still showing signs of hard use. I remember touring the old Point Estero in Gulfport, where she spent her entire 27-year career, with my NJROTC unit and sailing around Ship Island on her. She creaked and rolled even in shallow, still water and low seas.
Still, the ship was professional and her crew told of numerous incidents of running down illegal longliners, patrolling nearby naval yards for the possibility of Soviet mini-subs (this was during the late 80s), tense confrontations with drug runners, and sad tales of searching for those lost at sea. When you take this and multiply it by a factor of 50, you can see how beneficial these little crafts were.
It was then the USCG started replacing these craft with the 87-foot Marine Protector series and what I like to call the “Great Point Giveaway” started. In May 1991, the thirty-year-old Type A Point Hope was transferred to Costa Rica, starting the floodgate. Over the next thirteen years, another 39 cutters would follow in that process, given as foreign aid to 17 Countries, of which about half are still in some sort of service:
Costa Rica- 4
Dominican Republic – 3
El Salvador – 1
Georgia – 2 (which narrowly escaped destruction by the Russians in 2008)
Ecuador – 1
Jamaica – 2
Panama- 5 (to help rebuild their navy following the 1989 invasion)
St Lucia- 1
Philippines – 2
Trinidad – 4
Turkmenistan – 1
The last of these transferred, 1970-commissioned Point Bower, went to land-locked Azerbaijan for use on the world’s largest lake, the Caspian Sea in 2003, and was also the last Point in commission with the Coast Guard.
It’s amazing how craft deemed by the brass to be no longer worth the effort are quickly snapped up by our overseas allies for another decade or two of service. In fact, Mexico still has one of these boats leftover from 1961, the Point Verde (WPB-82311) now in her 24th-year of service to that country as the ARM Punto Morro (P 60).
Of the 13 not sent overseas:
3 ships were stripped and scuttled as reefs, with perhaps the Point Swift being the best known of these.
Point Arena was listed as in storage at Coast Guard Yard in Curtis, MD although one source mentions that she was destroyed date unknown in firefighting training.
Point Roberts was transferred to EPA as R/V Lake Explorer based out of Duluth, Minnesota. Decommissioned in July 2005 and sold to Basic Marine, Inc. Escanaba, Michigan she was replaced by the former NOAA R/V Rude. Roberts’s ultimate fate is unknown.
Point Harris, based in Hawaii since 1980, was sold to a private owner in 1992 and it is unclear where she is at this time.
3 were transferred to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 2001:
Two of these ships, the Point Glass and Point Lobos continued in service until 2006 when they were finally decommissioned and surplused. The Point Monroe was used as the law enforcement patrol vessel for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary flying NOAA’s flag and carrying armed Florida State Marine Patrol/Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers until 2012 when she was removed from service and put up for private sale.
Point Glass went on to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and now serves as a Sea Scouts ship in Galveston.
3 were donated to Academic programs- Point Divide to the Washington Maritime Academy, Point Charles to Texas A&M Maritime Academy. Point Brown was donated to Kingsborough CC in 1991 who used her for research for ten years. After a 2001 refit, she was purchased as a private vessel and renamed Lady B.
As Lady B she still flies the Coast Guard jack as her owner and skipper, Auxiliary Coxswain Stu Sunderland serves with his vessel in the Coast Guard Auxiliary in New York City. She is a frequent sight along the mid-Atlantic coast and has been involved in multiple missions for Sector New York. She just turned 43 years young and is still in semi-regular operation.
An 80th boat, the Sea Scout Ship Point Weber, is still used as part of the Point Weber Youth Maritime program but she was never a Coast Guard Cutter. Built by the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore MD specifically for the U.S. Navy in 1962, she was used by the Navy on the West Coast as a firing range control vessel and was donated to the organization in the 1980s.
Even though long out of federal service, it’s likely the last Point sailor, fighting seasickness, is yet to be born.
Displacement: 67 (A series), 69 (B/C Series)
Length: 82 feet
Beam: 17.25 feet
Draft: 6.0 feet
Main Engines Twin 1710 Cummins 1200 HP (Series A) later Twin 800 hp Cummins for 1600HP. eventually, twin Cat 3412 Diesels
Generators 2 GE 2-71 Diesels
Propellers Twin 42 in. variable pitch
Fuel Capacity 1840 gal. @ 95%
Compliment (1960) 8. (Vietnam) 2 officers, 13 men
Fresh Water Storage 1100 gals
Maximum Speed 22.9 knots (top) by 1980s typically closer to 15
Max Sustained Speed 18.0 knots
Cruise Speed 10.7 knots
Maximum Range 3000 @ 9.4 knots
Radar: SPN-11, CR-103 (1960), or SPS-64
Weapons: single 20mm AAA (as designed) 1 .50 cal/81mm mortar piggyback mount forward, 4 x M2 .50 cal stern, extensive small arms locker (Vietnam ships) 2 x M2 .50 cal forward (1970s stateside ships) small arms only after the 1980s
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