Warship Wednesday Aug 19, 2015: The first of the bucking ‘165s
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 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 Aug 19, 2015: The first of the bucking ‘165s
Here we see a great color photo the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tallapoosa (WPG-52) at rear just before World War II while still in her gleaming white and buff scheme. She may not look like much, but she was the forerunner of a class of ships that did much of the heavy lifting for the Coasties through Prohibition and two world wars.
In 1914 the Revenue Cutter Service was looking to replace the 25~ year old 148-foot steel-hulled cutter Winona.
The aging Winnie was the galloping ghost of the Gulf Coast and roamed from Galveston to Key West pulling duty busting smugglers, responding to hurricanes, operating with the Fleet when needed and, of course, saving lives at sea. Armed with a single 6-pounder to give warning shots across the bow, Winona patrolled the East Coast during the Spanish American War but by the opening of the Great War was a bit long in the tooth.
This led the service to design a new vessel to replace her.
In November 1914, the government ordered at a cost of $225,000 ($5.3 million in today’s figures) from Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia hull number CG27. This ship was based on lessons learned from Winona and was a bit longer at 165-feet, 10-inches and gave 912 tons displacement. A pair of oil-fired (most of the fleet was coal at the time, so this was advanced stuff here) Babcock & Wilcox boilers fed through a single center stack powered a triple-expansion steam engine that gave the little gunboat a 12 knot maximum speed. A 51,000-gallon load of fuel oil gave her a range of 6,000 miles, which is impressive for such a small vessel.
She was one of the first ice-strengthened ships in any maritime force and was heavily armed for a cutter of the time, given literally four times the deck guns that Winona had before her.
Able to float in just 11.9 feet of seawater, the new ship, named Tallapoosa, was launched on May Day 1915. She was commissioned on 12 August with Winona placed out of commission at Mobile, Alabama on 12 July and sold for $12,697 to a Mr. W. M. Evans of Mobile. Much of Winona‘s 39-man crew went to Virginia by train to operate the replacement vessel.
A sistership to Tallapoosa, USCGC Ossipee, was laid down just afterward and built side by side with the new cutter and was commissioned 28 July 1915 at the Coast Guard Depot, Arundel, MD. Curiously, she was classified as a river gunboat though I can’t find where she operated on any.
As for Tallapoosa, she arrived at Mobile on 18 August, taking Winona‘s old dock at the L&N Railroad landing near Government Street and was assigned to patrol from Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana to Tampa, Florida.
Tallapoosa soon rode out the epic July 4, 1916 Hurricane in Mobile Bay, narrowly avoiding three different collisions with ships that had broken their moorings in 104 mph winds then responded to check on Forts Morgan and Gains at the mouth of the Bay where U.S. Army Coastal Artillery units were stationed and cut off from commo.
Over the next few days, she ranged the Gulf looking for hurricane survivors and ships in need of assistance. As noted from a very interesting 17 page after action report filed at the time she assisted the schooner Henry W. Cramp, unnamed Russian and Norwegian barks, an unnamed British steamer, the three-master Laguna, the demasted schooner City of Baltimore, and the three-master Albert D. Mills, many of which were thrown high and dry on the barrier islands.
She then found the schooner Carrie Strong some 65 miles south of Mobile Bay, turned turtle but still afloat. After trying to sink the vessel with mines (!) which was unsuccessful due to the ship’s wooden construction and cargo of pine boards, Tallapoosa towed her to shore where the derelict was beached. While no survivors of Strong were found, the Tallapoosa‘s skipper did note that:
In light of recent news reports it may be of interest that when found, at least a dozen large sharks were found around this wreck and they were so bold that when the first boat was lowered they came alongside and struck the oars. A number were caught and killed while work was in progress.
When the U.S. entered WWI, Tallapoosa, now part of the Coast Guard, was assigned to the Naval Department on 6 April 1917. She landed her battery of 6-pounders, picked up a new one of a quartet of 3″/23 cal guns and for the next 28 months served as a haze gray colored gunboat for the Navy assigned to Halifax, N.S. (remember, she and her sister had their plating doubled around the bow and a steel waterline belt to enable them for light icebreaking, which surely came in handy in the Gulf of Mexico) as a coastal escort and search and rescue platform until 28 August 1919.
Tallapoosa‘s war record was quiet, as few U-boats popped up around Halifax, but sister Ossippee deployed to Gibraltar on 15 August 1917 and before the end of the war escorted 32 convoys consisting of 596 Allied vessels and made contacts with enemy submarines on at least 8 occasions, on one of these reportedly side-stepping a torpedo by about 15 feet.
While in open seas, they tended to roll and be generally uncomfortable, but nonetheless made great coastal boats and were generally used as such.
In 1919, both Tallapoosa and Ossipee traded their gray scheme and 3-inchers for more familiar white/buff and 6-pounders.
During Prohibition, Tallapoosa was back in the Gulf trying to stop rum-runners from Cuba while her sister was assigned to Portland, Maine and did the same for ships running good Canadian whiskey to thirsty mouths in New England and New York.
In 1930, they landed half their 6-pounders for a pair of new 3″/50s.
These two ships, with the lifesaving, war, and bootlegger busting service proved so useful that a follow on class of 24 ships based on their design with some improvements were ordered in the 1930s to modernize the Coast Guard.
The first of these new “165s,” USCGC Algonquin (WPG-75) was laid down 14 Oct. 1933 and the last was commissioned by the end of 1934– certainly some kind of peacetime shipbuilding record. Funded by PWA dollars, these ships carried slightly less oil but due to a better engine could make 12.5 knots instead of the slow 12 knots of their older sisters.
In the next world war, these 24 cutters proved their worth, splashing a number of German U-boats while escorting convoys, and performing yeoman service in polar areas. We’ve covered a couple of these later 165s before to include USCGC Mohawk and cannot talk these hardy boats up enough.
Tragically, one of these, USCGC Escanaba (WPG-77), was lost after encountering a U-boat or mine in 1943 with only two survivors.
Speaking of WWII, both Tallapoosa and Ossipee, along with their new kid sisters, chopped over to Navy service in November 1941– even before Pearl Harbor. Equipped with depth charges Tallapoosa was used as a convoy escort along the East Coast while Ossipee served her time on the Great Lakes as a plane guard for U.S. Navy carrier training operations while busting ice when able.
By 1943 the little Tallapoosa carried a SF-1 Radar, WEA-2A sonar, 2 Mousetrap ASW devices, 4 K-guns and 2 20mm Oerlikons besides her 3-inchers, with her crew doubling to over 100. She made at least two contacts on suspected U-boats but did not get credit for any kills despite dropping a number of depth charges that resulted in oil slicks.
However, with the war winding down, these older and smaller cutters became surplus with Tallapoosa decommissioning 8 November 1945 then was sold for her value as scrap the next July. She was bought by a banana boat company that specialized in shipping fruit from Central America to New Orleans and her ultimate fate is unknown, which means she very well maybe in some port in Honduras somewhere.
As far as Ossipee, she was scrapped in 1946 while the 23 remaining newer 165s were whittled down until the last in U.S. service, USCGC Ariadne (WPC-101), was decommissioned 23 Dec. 1968 and sold for scrap the next year.
Some went on to overseas service, including USCGC Thetis and Icarus, both of whom accounted for a German sub during the war and remained afloat into the late 1980s with the Dominican Republic’s Navy.
Two were briefly museum ships to include Comanche (WPG-76) who was at Patriot’s Point, South Carolina before being sunk as an artificial reef and Mohawk (WPG-78) in Key West, Florida before meeting her end as a reef in July 2012.
Of the 26 various 165s that served in the Coast Guard and Navy from 1915-1968, a span of over a half century, just one remains in some sort of service.
Commissioned as USCGC Electra (WPC-187) in 1934, she was transferred to the US Navy prior to WWII and renamed USS Potomac (AG-25), serving as FDR’s Presidential Yacht. She was saved in 1980 and is currently open to the public in Oakland.
Tallapoosa‘s bell is maintained in a place of honor in downtown Tallapoosa, Georgia while her christening board is on display at her longtime home port of Mobile at the City Museum.
Displacement (tons): 912
Length: 165′ 10″ overall
Draft: 11′ 9″
Machinery: Triple-expansion steam, 17″, 27″, and 44″ diameter x 30″ stroke, 2 x Babcock & Wilcox boilers, 1,000 shp; 12 knots maximum degraded to 10 by WWII.
Complement 5 officers, 56 as commissioned
9 officers, 63 enlisted, 1930
100~ by 1945
Armament: 4 x 6-pounders (1915);
2 x 6-pdrs; 2 x 3″ 50-cal (single-mounts) (as of 1930);
2 x 3″/50 (single-mounts); 1 x 3″/23; 2 x depth charge tracks (as of 1941);
2 x 3″/50 (single-mounts); 2 x 20mm/80 (single-mounts); 2 x Mousetraps; 4 x K-guns; 2 x depth charge tracks (as of 1945).
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