Keeping the lamp lit

While the U.S. Navy’s naming convention has shifted wildly over the years– for instance in the 1840s frigates were named for states but by the 1890s those names were used for armored cruisers, switching to battleships in the 1900s then ballistic missile submarines/nuclear guided missile cruisers during the Cold War and finally attack submarines today. For example, see the five different USS Mississippi which ranged from an 1839 paddle frigate to BB-23, BB-41, CGN-40 and the current SSN-782.

One convention, however, has endured for over a century.

In 1909, the class leader of a series of new 147-foot fleet tugs modified from the preceding USS Patapsco was named USS Patuxent (Tug No. 11) after an Algonquian people indigenous to what is now the Mid-Atlantic region. Likewise, her sisterships carried similar names.

Don’t let their mission fool you, fleet tugs from the beginnings saw a lot of hairy activity and dozens of battle stars have been issued to these unsung vessels.

Case in point:

USS PATUXENT (AT-11) A mine foul of the tug’s kite during sweeping operations in the North Sea, 1919. This mine exploded less than a minute after the photograph was taken. Description: Catalog #: NH 2616

After the Patuxent-class came the USS Arapaho (AT-14) class, which served through into the WWII-era. Then followed the 28-vessel Navajo/Cherokee-class and the storied 27-strong Abnaki-class.

These vessels held the line for more than three decades in hard service.

Torpedoed light cruiser USS Reno under salvage, fleet tugboat USS Zuni alongside, 5 November 1944. She later went on to become the Coast Guard Cutter Tamaroa

4 June 1944 Tug USS Abnaki (ATF-96) tows U-505 photo from USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60) Note the large U.S. Ensign flying from U-505’s periscope. 80-G-324351

USCGC Tug Comanche (ex. USS Wampanoag) tows crippled Japanese Kokaku Maru 1963

Finally, the Powhatan-class fleet ocean tugs which survive in the MSC today providing “towing, diving and standby submarine rescue services to the Navy’s numbered fleet commanders,” still carry proud names.

The fleet tug USNS MOHAWK (T-ATF 170) tows the battleship USS WISCONSIN (BB 64) to Pascagoula, Mississippi, for reactivation.

To perpetuate this tradition and replace the three remaining 1970s-era Powhatans, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer announced earlier this month the new class of Towing, Salvage, and Rescue ship will be named Navajo “in honor of the major contributions the Navajo people have made to the armed forces.”

Further, all seven of the class will be named in honor of Native peoples.

190215-N-DM308-003 WASHINGTON (Jan. 29, 2019) An artist rendering of the future USNS Navajo (T-TATS 6). (U.S. Navy photo illustration/Released)

“The Navajo people have fought and served our armed forces with honor and valor in nearly every major conflict since the birth of our nation, so it is fitting and right to name a new class of ship in their honor,” said Spencer. “The Navajo class of Towing, Salvage, and Rescue ships will serve our nation and continue the legacy of the Navajo people, and all Native Americans.”


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