Warship Wednesday Dec.30, 2015: Subkiller of the Florida Keys
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 Dec.30, 2015: Subkiller of the Florida Keys
Here we see the Treasury-class United States Coast Guard Cutter Samuel D. Ingham (WPG/AGC/WHEC-35) dockside of the old Navy submarine base at Key West near Fort Zachary Taylor, part of the Truman Annex to Naval Air Station Key West, where she has been as a museum ship since 2009.
In the mid-1930s, the Coast Guard had some 40~ oceangoing cutters consisting of a few pre-WWI era slowboats and a host of 165 and 240/250 foot vessels designed for bluewater rum-runner busting during Prohibition. With the Volstead Act repealed and the boozecraft disappearing, the new push in the Treasury department once Mr. Roosevelt took office was for long-legged boats to help patrol the nation’s burgeoning international air traffic routes to affect rescues and provide weather support.
Although the Coasties came up with their own design for a stretched version of their 250-foot Lake-class cutters, the Navy had just coughed up a new gunboat design– the two Erie-class gunboats USS Erie (PG-50) and USS Charleston (PG-51) — which the service could save some bread on by gently modifying. Instead of the Erie‘s 6”/47 Mk17s, the Coast Guard went with 5”/51’s and saved money in other areas, building their cutters out at about 30 percent less cost than the Eries.
These seven new cutters, classified gunboats (WPG) in Treasury service, were all named after former Secretaries of that cabinet branch with USCGC George M. Bibb (WPG-31) laid down 15 August 1935 followed quickly by Campbell, Warship Weds alumni Spencer, Duane, Taney, Hamilton and the hero of our story, Ingham— named after Andrew Jackson’s Treasury boss. However, shortly after commissioning all of the names were trimmed to the last name only.
Capable of over 20-knots and with the capability to carry a seaplane (a JF-2 amphibian), these 327-foot long, 2400-ton cutters could roam across the ocean and back again with an impressive 12,300-nm range. A pair of 5-inch/51-caliber guns augmented a few 6-pounder guns was impressive enough for a shallow water (can float in 13-feet of sea) gunboat and seen as more than adequate to stop smugglers and sink derelict vessels on the high seas. In a pinch, the armament could be increased in time of war, which the Navy was keenly aware of.
Built at Philadelphia Naval Yard (Ingham himself was born at Great Spring near New Hope, Pennsylvania in 1779), the cutter carrying his name was commissioned 12 September 1936 and was the fourth cutter to bear that name. She was assigned to Port Angeles, Washington, where she participated in arduous Bering Sea patrols until the start of WWII in Europe.
Given a tasking for “Grand Banks Patrols,” Ingham was homeported in Boston with orders to identify foreign men-of-war, be on the lookout for any “un-neutral” activities, and report anything of an unusual nature. Each cruise lasted approximately two weeks. The cutters ran with their ensign illuminated by searchlight at all times, and prefaced all signals with Coast Guard identification. This transitioned to three-week long weather station duty in the North Atlantic with embarked meteorologists.
In December 1940, she was up-armed with things growing increasingly tense in the North Atlantic and transferred for duty with the Navy on 1 July 1941 and her Coast Guard crew intact, spending part of the year as a floating embassy in spy-rich Lisbon for the U. S. ambassador to Portugal.
Assigned to CINCLANT at the U.S. entrance to the war, she soon began a series of convoy operations, escorting no less than 28 convoys back and forth from the East Coast to Iceland between Dec. 1941 and March 1943. Some were pure milk runs. Others were not.
On SC-107, 16 ships were torpedoed.
On ONSJ-160, Ingham reduced speed and ceased zigzagging as a force 12 hurricane developed and then had to spend three days searching for stragglers.
It was in this duty she rescued survivors from the torpedoed SS Henry R. Mallory, Robert E. Hopkins, West Portal, Jeremiah Van Rensseler and all hands of the Matthew Luckenback.
Then there was the time she gesunken a U-boat.
Ingham, along with USS Babbitt and USS Leary were near Iceland, where they stumbled on the brand new German Type VIIC submarine U-626 who was on her maiden patrol on 15 December 1942. The cutter made sonar contact with an object and dropped depth charges on the sub, sinking her and killing her entire crew of 47 though some argue the point.
During the 8 to 12 watch tonight, while on patrol 3 miles ahead of the convoy, we picked up screw-beats of a submarine while listening, ran in and dropped three 600-pounders. Then, getting contact on the U-boat again by echo-ranging we made another run and gave it a 10-charge barrage. Search was continued for some time, but contact was not regained. There is a strong possibility that we sunk him without forcing him to the surface.
Another surface action in June 1942:
On the 16th, the Ingham broke away from the convoy to investigate a light brown smoke on the horizon and on approaching closer definitely sighted a submarine with conning tower and diesel oil smoke from the exhaust plainly visible. The Ingham increased speed to 19 knots and gave chase, firing one round from the forward 5″ gun at a range of 13,000 yards.
Then in 1944, she found herself in the Med, chasing sonar contacts off Morocco and Spain before assuming flagship of the Senior Mediterranean Escort Group.
Then in May, Ingham proceeded back to the states for conversion to an AGC (Combined operations communications headquarters ship) which took most of the rest of the year and led to her shipping for the Pacific, arriving Dec 26th at Humboldt Bay, reporting to Commander, Seventh Fleet.
By February 1945, as flag of Commander, Task Group 76.3, Ingham was the HQ and guide ship for the Mariveles-Corregidor Attack Group in the PI and later oversaw the beach landings at Tigbauan, Pulupandan, Macajalar Bay, Sarangani Bay and the seizure of Balut Island. In these attacks she frequently let her 5-inchers release hate on Japanese shore positions while dodging underwater obstacles and swimming sappers.
Commander Dean W. Colbert wrote in his memoir of life on board Ingham of her crowding at the time with four men assigned to a single rack:
“. . .during major landings, we accommodated up to 360 persons onboard and there was literally standing room only. . .Mealtime was a carefully orchestrated operation. Up to 1000 meals per day were prepared and served out of a galley roughly the size of a kitchen in a 4-bedroom house. . .It was a challenge by any standard, but Ingham’s crew rose to the occasion. Many of the ‘black gang’ . . .and other crew members had been on board during the worst of the U-boat campaigns in the North Atlantic. As a whole, the crew was superb, especially the chief and first class petty officers. They were a tremendously capable and reliable group.”
The end of the war found her off Okinawa as the flag of Adm. Buckmaster who sailed into Shanghai and Haiphong to help coordinate occupation efforts with Chinese army officials.
On 6 January 1946, she arrived back on the East Coast at New York, landed her armament, got her white paint scheme back, and picked up where she left off as a cutter.
Homeported at Norfolk, Virginia, she spent the next 22 years on quiet weather station duty, assisting those in peril at sea and conducting law enforcement operations.
Then came another war.
Becoming part of Coast Guard Squadron Three in 1968, Ingham soon became part of the Navy’s Operation Market Time interdiction and coastal surveillance effort in Vietnam. She spent a year in CGS3, conducting numerous naval gunfire support missions, serving as a mothership to Navy Swift boats and Coast Guard 82-foot patrol boats, sending medical teams ashore to win hearts and minds in local seaside hamlets, and stopping anything that moved inside her area of operation.
As noted by her official USCG history, “She participated in Operation Sea Lords and Operation Swift Raiders, earning an unprecedented two Presidential Unit Citations, the only cutter to be so honored.”
Still homeported in Virginia, Ingham picked up where she left off in 1969 and continued ocean station duty until the stations themselves were disbanded in 1980.
After that, she was a favorite vessel of the USCGA in New London, taking cadets on summer cruises that lasted up to 10 weeks at a time and continuing to do so until 1985.
She took breaks from cadet training to seize drug runners (the Honduran fishing trawler Mary Ann, where the boarding team discovered 15-tons of marijuana in 1979 and the vessel Misfit carrying 35 tons of marijuana in 1982) as well as saving hundreds of lives during the Mariel Boatlift in 1980– often landing refugees and towing Cuban vessels to Key West for processing.
She outlasted all of her sisters in service, with Hamilton being torpedoed during the war off Iceland 29 January 1942, Spencer sold for scrap in 1981, Campbell decommissioned in 1982 and sunk as a target, Bibb and Duane decommissioned in 1985, and Pearl Harbor survivor Taney decommissioned 7 December 1986.
On 1 August 1985, Ingham‘s hull numbers were painted gold, signifying she was the oldest commissioned Coast Guard vessel in service, period. On 24 May 1988, she was decommissioned with a salute from President Reagan. It was the first time in 52 years that she did not have an official tasking.
USCGC Ingham Decommissioning Ceremony 1988:
Saved as a memorial, she was at first a museum ship at Patriot’s Point, S.C. and then, after dry-dock and repairs, at Key West. A maritime museum keeps her in excellent condition and in 1995 was made the official site of the USCGs WWII memorial per order of the commandant.
I had a chance to tour Ingham last month and here is a sampling of her current disposition:
Her sistership Taney has been preserved in Baltimore harbor since her decommissioning while sisters, Duane and Bibb, are only about a half hour away from Ingham‘s current location, both sunk as an artificial reef off Key Largo, 27 November 1987.
As a nod to her many years of service to the USCGA, Ingham is often graced with visits from cadets who spend vacation time sleeping in the onboard berths, scraping paint and repairing heads.
When in Key West, she is well worth a stop.
Displacement 2,350 t. (lt)
Length 327′ 0″
Beam 41′ 0″
Draft 12′ 6″ (max.)
two Westinghouse double-reduction geared turbines
two Babcock & Wilcox sectional express, air-encased, 400 psi, 200° superheat
two 9′ three-bladed propellers, 6,200shp (1966)
Fuel Capacity NSFO 135,180 gallons (547 tons)
Speed 20.5 kts (max)
HF/DF: (1942) DAR (converted British FH3) ?
Radar: (1945) SC-2, SGa; (1966) AN/SPS-29D, AN/SPA-52.
Fire Control Radar: (1945) Mk-26; (1966) Mk-26 MOD 4
Sonar: (1945) QC series; (1966) AN/SQS-11
4 warrant officers
4 warrant officers
3 warrant officers
2 single 5″/51 cal gun mounts
3 single 5″/51 cal gun mounts
3 single 3″/50 cal dual purpose gun mounts
4 .50 caliber Browning Machine Guns
2 depth charge racks
“Y” gun depth charge projector
2 single 5″/51 cal gun mounts
4 single 3″/50 cal dual gun mounts
2 single 20mm/80 AA gun mounts
6 “K” gun depth charge projectors
2 depth charge racks
2 single 5″/38 cal dual purpose gun mounts
3 twin 40mm/60 AA gun mounts
4 single 20mm/80 AA gun mounts
2 single 5″/38 cal dual gun mount
1 twin 40mm;/60 AA gun mount
8 single 20mm/80 AA gun mounts
1 single 5″/38 MK30 Mod75 cal dual-purpose gun mount w/ MK 52 MOD 3 director
1 MK 10-1 Hedgehog (removed)
2 (P&S) x Mk 32 MOD 5 TT
4 MK 44 MOD 1 torpedoes
2 .50 cal. MK-2 Browning Machine Guns
2 MK-13 high altitude parachute flare mortars
Aircraft (discontinued after WWII)
1936, Grumman JF-2, V148
1938, Curtiss SOC-4
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