Warship Wednesday Feb.15, 2017: Keyser’s sweeper
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 their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday Feb.15, 2017: Keyser’s sweeper
Here we see the Auk-class minesweeper USS Tanager (AM-385) as photographed when new, circa 1945. This humble ship remained afloat in U.S. maritime service across three decades, and, though she vanished about 10 years ago, will live forever.
One of the expansive class of some 95 steel-hulled minesweepers built in the closing months of World War II, these hardy 1,100-ton, 225-foot long vessels could touch 18-knots and, mounting a single 3″/50 DP unprotected gun forward, a few 40mm and 20mm guns, and some depth charges, could make a good patrol/escort in a pinch. A third of the class was built right off the bat for the Royal Navy but the U.S. thought they were good enough to keep the bulk of them around well into the Cold War.
The hero of our tale, Tanager, was named after both a World War I minesweeper of the same name and the red-breasted passerine bird.
Though several Auks saw rough service in WWII (11 were lost to enemy action) Tanager came into the conflict with just weeks left and spent the rest of 1945 in shakedown.
Over the next half-decade, she alternated service to the Naval Mine Countermeasures Station, at Panama City, Fla and the Mine Warfare School at Yorktown, Va. By 1951, she was off to the Med where she served in the 6th Fleet for a six-month deployment which she repeated in 1953.
After a dry-docking period, she was towed to Orange, Tex and on 10 December 1954, was decommissioned and berthed there with the Atlantic Reserve Fleet, redesignated MSF-385 the next year. In her nine years of active service with the Navy, she had a revolving Captain’s Cabin of no less than 13 skippers (ranging from O-2 through O-4).
With the Coast Guard in need of training hulls and the Navy rapidly transferring the remaining Auks to overseas Allies, Tanager was transferred to the Treasury Department 4 October 1963 and stricken from the Navy list three weeks later.
Towed to the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland, she was stripped of the rest of her mine clearing gear as well as most of her armament and converted to a white-hulled training cutter. Built for a complement of 117 officers and men, her berthing areas were set up for a Coasty crew of five officers and 34 enlisted men and made capable of carrying up to 90 reservists for training exercises.
Designated USCGC Tanager (WTR-885) on 11 July 1964, she was commissioned into the Coast Guard under the command of LCDR Robert G. Elm. Over the next five years, she operated out of the USCG Reserve Training Center at Yorktown, undertaking regular training cruises up and down the Eastern Seaboard while pulling the occasional sortie for urgent SAR missions– coming to the rescue of the distressed ketch Arcturus in 1969.
In 1969, she was transferred to the West Coast, arriving at the Training and Supply Center at Government Island, Alameda, Calif in November after passing through the Panama Canal. Performing the same role she did at Yorktown, by 1972 she was considered surplus. As such, she decommissioned 1 February 1972.
Meanwhile, the Navy had divested themselves of the Auk-class. Though they had nearly 20 still on the Naval List when Tanager was taken out of Coast Guard service, they were all on red lead row and had been since the mid-1950s. Almost all were soon struck and sold or donated. I say almost because one, USS Tercel (AM-386), was somehow missed and disposed of in a SINKEX in 1988 after 33 years in mothballs.
Back to the Tanager…
With no one really wanting her, she was disposed of by sale to one Mr. William A. Hardesty of Seattle, Wash in November 1972. She was reportedly converted to the private yacht Eagle (at least they kept a bird name) and changed hands several times over the next 20 years.
By 1994, still with her white hull, she was back in California and tapped to be a set for a film that started with the survivors of a massacre and fire on a freighter docked at the Port of Los Angeles– The Usual Suspects.
Though she was used for a few more film and TV roles, it’s likely only the neo-noir crime caper will stand the test of time.
By 2007, she was reportedly in the south end of Baja’s Ensenada Bay, abandoned. It made a certain sense for her to be in Mexican waters, as the navy of that republic received no less than 11 Auks from the U.S. in the 1970s, and kept a few of them in service as late as 2004.
“We have here a former U.S. Navy ship called the Tanager,” Ríos Hernández, the capitán del puerto, or harbormaster, of the port of Ensenada, told the San Diego Reader. “It was a minesweeper during World War II. It showed up in Ensenada harbor two or three years ago. From what we’ve been able to find out, it was purchased at a U.S. government auction for $10. The owner brought it down here and disappeared. Now it’s our problem.”
Per Bob’s Minesweeper Page, the old girl was still afloat for awhile in poor condition and was being surveyed for scrap, which more than likely happened.
And like that…(s)he’s gone…
Length: 220′ 7″
Beam: 32′ 3″
Draft: 10′ 2″
Displacement: 1,112 tons
Propulsion: 4 generators driven by 4 electric motors driven by 4 Cleveland diesels; 3,600 HP; twin propellers
Max: 16.0 knots
Economic: 12.0 knots; 7,200-mile range
Electronics: SPS-23 radar; SQS-1 sonar
Complement: 117 as commissioned, USCG: 5 officers/ 34 enlisted plus accommodations for 90 reservists
Armament: (as built) 3″/50 dual purpose gun mount, two 40mm gun mounts, six 20mm gun mounts, one depth charge thrower (hedgehogs), four depth charge projectors (K-guns) and two depth charge tracks.
(1955): 3″/50 dual purpose gun mount, two 40mm gun mounts
(1963) 3″/50, small arms
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