Warship Wednesday, June 7, 2017: The first stripe and the savior of the Queen

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, June 7, 2017: The first stripe and the savior of the Queen

Here we see an oncoming Coast Guard Cutter through an attack periscope of a “U-boat.” She is the Owasco-class gunboat/high endurance cutter Androscoggin (WPG/WHEC-68) and was the first to carry the now-customary racing stripe of the service. More on this submarine action below.

The word Androscoggin is an Indian term meaning “fishing place for alewives” or “spear fishing” and is used for a river formed on the Maine-New Hampshire border as well as a county and lake in the same area. The name was first used in U.S. maritime service by the U.S. Revenue Cutter Androscoggin, a 210-foot vessel built for the service in Delaware in 1908.

USRC Androscoggin (1907-1922) at the dock at Boston Navy Yard, MA, May 14, 1920. The wooden planking of the hull can clearly be seen. NHC S-553-K

One of the first warships (she was armed with a quartet of four pounders as well as demolition charges and mines to sink deflects found at sea) designed to break ice, she was used in many high-profile rescues at sea under amazingly harsh conditions as well as participating in the early International Ice Patrol after the loss of RMS Titanic. In 1914, she interned the North German Lloyd Line steamship SS Kronprinzessin Cecilie— with $10m worth of German gold aboard– as the Great War came to Europe and saved her from likely capture by British ships on the Atlantic– a fun point when we consider the follow-on Cutter Androscoggin.

Speaking of which, let’s get to the 255-foot Owasco or “Indian tribe” -class.

Designed during World War II to replace a few elderly cutters dating back to the 1900s as well as 10 Lake-class vessels transferred to Britain in 1940 under the Destroyers for Bases deal, the 13 Owascos were short (225 feet) and beamy (43 feet) making them as wide as a FFG7 class frigate of today but about 200 feet shorter. With a displacement of over 2,000-tons at full load, they were wider and as heavy as a Fletcher-class destroyer of the day but classified as gunboats (PGs) by the Navy.

They were the most heavily armed Coast Guard ships of WWII, with twin 5″/38 mounts fore and aft, a pair of quad 40mm Bofors, 4x20mm/80 singles, twin depth charge racks over the stern, 6 Y-gun depth charge projectors, and a Mark 10 Hedgehog anti-submarine mortar device. Besides the larger Wind-class icebreakers operated by both the Navy and the Coast Guard, and the 327-foot Treasury-class cutters, the Owascos were the only WWII-era ships built for the service that had a fire control radar (a Mk26). The initial design even included an amidships floatplane and catapult, but this was deleted.

Class leader USCGC Owasco, 18 July 1945 off San Pedro CA; Photo No. SP-9944; US Navy photo. What a chunky monkey.

With their overly complex turbo-electric plant and low-speed (17 knots wide open), these boats were not really meant for high seas/heavy weather but for close-in littoral (16-foot draft) work and plodding convoy operations.

Androscoggin’s sister, the 255-ft. U.S. Coast Guard Cutter ESCANABA, based in New Bedford, Massachusetts, takes a salty shower bath in rough North Atlantic weather on ocean station ‘Delta’, 650 miles southeast of Newfoundland and east of Nova Scotia

The first 11 of the class were built by the Western Pipe & Steel Company at San Pedro, California, while the last two—Mendota and Pontchartrain—were completed at the hands of the by the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland. None made a significant impact on WWII, with class leader Owasco commissioning on 18 May 1945.

CGC Androscoggin, the last of the class built at San Pedro and the last of the design to be completed, commissioned on 26 September 1946, a full year after the war ended. Her first station was in Boston where she spent until 1950 on weather stations in the Atlantic, sans most of her wartime armament.

Original caption states: “The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter ANDROSCOGGIN (WPG-68), shown here leaving port bound for Argentia, Newfoundland, the ANDROSCOGGIN has served primarily as an Ocean Weather Stations vessel in the North Atlantic. Circa 1950; no photo number; photographer unknown. Note the appearance of her contrasted against the Oswasco’s WWII armament and camo.

Transferred to Miami in 1959, Androscoggin would spend the next 23 years off and on there conducting law enforcement and search and rescue operations, as well as occasional stints on ocean weather station tours– the latter spent performing 28 days obtaining meteorological and oceanography data and information. As such, she had her sole twin 5″ mount replaced with a more practical single tube.

Atlantic Weather Observation Service “ocean stations” on which thousands of Coast Guardsmen served through most of the Cold War

Androscoggin also helped support the Navy’s Fleet Sonar School in Key West, serving as the USCG’s school ship there on occasion. During this time, she spent a lot of hours in war games with the various WWII Balao-class subs stationed in the Keys, and as such her sonar and electronics were updated from 1940s-era sets to the current fleet standard.

Original caption states: “The 255-foot U.S. Coast Guard Cutter ANDROSCOGGIN, stationed at Miami, Fla., as a training and search and rescue ship, is now carrying specially trained U.S. Weather Bureau observers to gather upper-air weather information during her patrols in the Gulf of Mexico. The ANDROSCOGGIN makes many training cruises a year and performs search and rescue work in the South Atlantic and Gulf. In connection with law enforcement, she patrols the Campeche Banks, and are of fishing grounds off the town of Campeche in the Gulf used by hundreds of fishing vessels of the United States and Mexico.”; 13 August 1958; Photo No. 5821; photographer unknown.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, she chopped to help the Navy, picking up the Navy Expeditionary Medal.

In 1965, Androscoggin was the first in the service to pick up the USCG’s new “racing stripe” design.

“The Andy tied up at Base Miami Beach. The picture was taken right after the hash mark was painted on the bow for the first time in 1965.” Provided to Coast Guard Historians Office courtesy of former-Androscoggin crewman John Burmester.

A Technicolor close up of her stripe in 1966 with a bone in her mouth. Note the design has changed over the years in respect to the shield and its placement. Also, note the .50 cal and Hedgehog just under the bridge windows.

In 1966, she was detached to the Bahamas where she helped support the filming of the Paramount film “Assault on a Queen” in which Frank Sinatra and company salvage a lost German U-boat and use her to stop and rob the RMS Queen Mary.

As noted by the Coast Guard’s Historian’s Office: “In the final segments of the film, Androscoggin, through the miracle of special effects, saves the day by ramming and sinking a renegade submarine, thereby thwarting Sinatra’s dastardly plan to rob RMS Queen Mary on the high seas.”

Many of the ocean scenes in the filming of “Assault on a Queen” took place in the huge man-made pool that was the “Sersen Tank” at Fox’s Ranch in Malibu Canyon. Built in the 1960s, dozens of films from “Cleopatra” to “Tora! Tora! Tora!” had their water scenes shot there. The Sinatra crew’s static U-boat set was built there and the footage of Androscoggin‘s ice-strengthened bow rushing from the horizon as the German skipper fires his P-38 in the last act of defiance was superimposed.

Her movie days behind her, she was sent to war.

In 1967, Androscoggin was dispatched to the Navy’s control again, heading to Vietnam for a nine-month stint in Operation Market Time, the interdiction effort off the coast of that country to stop reinforcements from the North from making their way south via water. Androscoggin was assigned to Coast Guard Squadron Three, Vietnam, from 4 December 1967 to 4 August 1968, ditching most of her remaining ASW gear for a pair of 81mm mortars (used for firing illumination rounds) and a half-dozen M2 .50 cals for keeping small boats at bay.

(At least the hammer on the 1911 is down) “A captured Viet Cong from the morning’s raid by the junk force and 82-footer is guarded while his companion is undergoing surgery aboard the Andy in a futile attempt to save his life for further interrogation.” US Coast Guard Cutter ANDROSCOGGIN Deployment in Viet-Nam; Nov. 1967–Sept. 1968 [Cruise Book], page 86.

In addition to sinking or destroying 106 enemy sampans, on the night of 28 Feb/1 March 1968, Androscoggin shot it out with a large armed North Vietnamese steel-hull trawler moving munitions down south at the mouth of the Song Cau River.

The explosion of VC trawler, 1 March 1968, destroyed by Androscoggin. US Coast Guard Cutter ANDROSCOGGIN Deployment in Viet-Nam; Nov. 1967–Sept. 1968 [Cruise Book], page 65.

“. . .Other days we were tossed by a combination of sea, the wind, and long Pacific swell!” US Coast Guard Cutter ANDROSCOGGIN Deployment in Viet-Nam; Nov. 1967–Sept. 1968 [Vietnam Cruise Book], p. 5.

US Coast Guard Cutter ANDROSCOGGIN in heavy seas while deployed in Vietnam

During her 304-day mission from Miami to Miami, she steamed 64,676 miles and fired 4,147 5-inch shells from her main gun over the course of 44 naval gunfire support missions– some with as little as three feet of brackish water under her keel. Her crew also investigated over 2,000 surface contacts, conducted 17 medical missions ashore and delivered four babies.

In her 27-years afloat, she played host to several crew members who went on to great things. Roland Hemond was an NCO on “Andy” in the 1950s and played on her softball team before going to become one of baseball’s most successful executives, spending 23 years as a general manager with the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles before becoming the chief executive officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The well-liked and respected 23rd Commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm. Thad Allen (USCGA 1971) was a newly minted 22-year-old ensign on Androscoggin when it came to his duty to file the customary New Year’s Eve Log going into 1972 as the ship sat tied up at Miami Beach, and I think it is one of the better than I have read:

Such as I, on numbered ships,
on many nights, for countless years,
Have toyed their minds in search of words
To describe a mooring to some pier;
Or the loneliness out underway,
Remembering gentle words and tears,
And find some clever way to state
The movements of a thousand years.
So I, like them, with pen in hand
Here on these pages now commit
The status of our weather ship
And the varied functions there, to wit.
Our mooring lines run two by two
Secured are we this year so new
Berth, Foxtrot, to which our hawsers reach
Is to our port in Miami Beach.
Commander, Coast Guard District Seven
Sits above us in the heavens.
He gives us orders and transfers souls
And exerts his operational control.
Since airplanes in the foremast look pretty unsightly
All of our lights are burning brightly.
To wet our throats and light our way
Throughout these Charlie-status days
Upon the dock we must rely
For telephone and shore ties
So we may protect those here inside
We have sit Yoke modified
And to insure this ship stays sound
The messenger is making hourly rounds.
Pollution abatement is the Coast Guard’s pride
But we are pumping our sewage over the side
And last, there are those more lucky than we
In duty section one, two and three
For to keep the wolf away from the door
The duty belongs to section four.
While at home with family and fireside bright
The commanding officer is ashore tonight.
…with duties done and entries made,
I can only sit and ponder
The pathways through the coming year
And courses we must wander.
Ours is such and duty calls,
But the day must come for us to see
The people of the Earth walk hand in hand
And all nations are one and free.
Until that time we all will pray
That we may find each other
Then stop the wars that mean our doom
And walk the Earth as brothers…
Few creatures are stirring to see the year slip,
Brow quite wrinkled and dark eyes set deep
Love, peace, and joy are there to be found

With the Coast Guard’s post-Vietnam draw-down and a dozen new Hamilton-class 378-foot cutters joining the fleet, the 13 Owascos were retired en bloc between 1973-75, with Androscoggin decommissioned on 27 February 1973, and sold for scrap on 7 October 1974. Few reminders of the class remain.

Androscoggin‘s memory is maintained by a dedicated group of former crewmen and her log books, going all the way back to 1947, are in the National Archives.

There is this piece of maritime art, “Weather decks secure” by CDR Don Van Liew, of Androscoggin at sea.

You can always watch Assault on a Queen, from which stock footage of Androscoggin has been recycled into a number of 1960s and 70s TV shows.

And of course, the racing stripe lives on…and is now the standard identification for coast guard vessels around the world under dozens of flags.

Even the Russians Coast Guard uses it!


USCGC Androscoggin (WPG-68; WHEC-68); no caption/number; photographer/date unknown. Provided courtesy of former Androscoggin crewman William C. Bishop to Coast Guard Historians Office. He noted: “I believe this picture was taken after we left the shipyard in 66 or 67 steaming through the Chesapeake Bay after the midship superstructure was added before our deployment to Viet Nam in 67.”

Displacement: 1,978 fl (1966); 1,342 light (1966)
Length: 254’oa; 245’bp
Navigation Draft: 17’3” max (1966) Beam: 43’1” max
Main Engines: 1 Westinghouse electric motor driven by a turbine. SHP: 4,000 total (1945)
Performance, Maximum Sustained: 17.0 kts, 6,157-mi radius (1966)
Performance, Economic: 10.0 kts., 10,376-mi radius (1966)
Fuel Capacity: 141,755 gal (Oil, 95%)
Complement: 10 officers, 3 warrants, 130 men (1966)
Radar: SR, SU
Sonar: QJA
Detection Radar: SPS-23, SPS-29, Mk 26, Mk 27
Sonar: SQS-1
2 x twin 5 inch/38 cal. dual purpose gun mounts, one fore and one aft, 2 x quad 40mm AA gun mounts, 2 x depth charge tracks; 6 x “K” gun depth charge projectors, 1 x hedgehog A/S projector.
1 x 5”/38 Mk 12m Mod 6 w/ Mk 52 Mod 3 director and 26-4 fire control radar;
1 x Mk 10 Mod 1 A/S projector;
2 x Mk 32 ASW TT
1 x 5”/38 Mk 12m Mod 6 w/ Mk 52 Mod 3 director and 26-4 fire control radar;
2 x 81mm mortars for illum
6 x M2 .50 caliber guns

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