Warship Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019: The Other Tora of Pearl Harbor
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Dec. 4, 2019: The Other Tora of Pearl Harbor
Here we see the 125-foot Active-class patrol craft USCGC Tiger (WPC-152) in 1928 during Prohibition. One of a class of 35 so-called “Buck and a Quarter” cutters rushed into completion to deal with rumrunners, these choppy little gunboats were designed to serve as subchasers in time of war and Tiger would be there the moment the balloon went up over Pearl Harbor.
These cutters were intended for trailing the slow, booze-hauling mother ship steamers of “Rum Row” along the outer line of patrol during Prohibition. Constructed for $63,173 each, they originally had a pair of 6-cylinder 150hp Superior or Winton diesel engines that allowed them a stately speed of 10 knots, max, but allowed a 4,000nm, theoretically Atlantic-crossing range– an outstanding benefit for such a small craft.
For armament, they carried a single 3″/23 cal deck gun for warning shots– dated even for the 1920s– as well as a small arms locker that included everything from Tommy guns to .38s. In a time of conflict, they could tote listening gear and depth charge racks left over from the Great War, but we’ll get to that later.
Taking advantage of one big contract issued on 26 May 1926, they were all built within 12 months by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey (although often listed as “American Brown Boveri” due to their owners at the time, the Swiss Brown Boveri corporation).
Named like the rest of the class in honor of former historic cutters, our craft recycled the moniker only used previously by the Civil War-era 100-foot steam tug Tiger which had been bought in 1861 for $9,000 from the Patapsco Steam Co. by the Revenue Marine Service– the forerunner of the Coast Guard– and used to patrol Chesapeake Bay and the approaches to New York City alternatively during the conflict, boarding “with revolvers” as many as 20 craft a day in search of contraband and rebel blockade runners.
The brand-new USCGC Tiger was NYSB Hull No. 346 and was completed on 29 April 1927. Placed in commission on 3 May, she operated out of Coast Guard Base Two at Stapleton, New York, hitting Rum Row with a vengeance in the closing days of the war on illegal liquor. As the Volstead Act was repealed, she transferred to Norfolk, Virginia, for more traditional coastal SAR and fisheries patrol work, arriving there on 6 June 1933.
Durable for their size, Tiger and her sisters were well-liked by their crews and would go on to soldier on for several more decades. Constructed with 3×3 Douglas fir frames on a steel hull, they gained a reputation for being solid ships but were considered too slow (go figure) and were subsequently re-engined in the late 1930s with their original 6-cylinder diesels replaced by more powerful 8-cylinder units on the same beds that gave the vessels three additional knots or so. This left them with a changed profile, as they picked up a large (for their size) stack just behind the wheelhouse.
By 1940, Tiger was assigned to the Hawaii Territory along with her sister Reliance (WPC-150), where they soon picked up depth charges, Lewis guns, and grey paint from the Navy. Such equipped, the class was redesignated as Coast Guard submarine chasers (WSC). The Coast Guard was transferred from the Treasury Department to the Navy Department on 1 November 1941, making the lead-up to WWII official.
Speaking of lead up, both Tiger and Reliance, along with the 327-foot cutter Taney (WPG-37) were assigned to the Navy’s Inshore Patrol Command under CDR John Wooley along with four old destroyers and four minesweepers. This group was tasked by Pacific Fleet boss ADM Husband E. Kimmel to patrol the shoreline around Pearl Harbor and keep an eye peeled for both spies and saboteurs as well as strange periscopes.
That brings us to the morning of 7 December 1941.
On patrol off Oahu that morning, Tiger, under the command of CWO William J. Mazzoni, received a flash from the destroyer USS Ward, a fellow member of the Inshore Patrol Command, around 0645 claiming destruction of an unidentified submarine trying to come through the nets into Pearl– one it had been searching for since 0357 after it had been reportedly spotted by the minesweeper Condor. Said periscope turned out to be one of the series of Japanese midget subs sent to attack Battleship Row at the beginning of the air assault.
This put Tiger on alert and she soon made ready for a real-live shooting war.
At 0720, just after passing the Barber’s Point buoy, Tiger’s WWI-era listening gear picked up a contact now believed by some to be Japanese midget submarine HA-19, a two-man Type A boat that was bumping around off reefs with a broken compass.
At 0753, as the first wave of 183 armed Japanese carrier planes swung around Barber’s Point, allowing a view into Pearl Harbor and the seven slumbering dreadnoughts below, CDR Mitsuo Fuchida ordered the radioman in his Kate torpedo bomber to tap out the later-infamous “Tora, Tora, Tora” (tiger, tiger, tiger) signal, the code words back to the Japanese fleet that the inbound airstrike had caught the Americans unaware.
While still looking unsuccessfully for subs, right around 0800, Tiger started receiving fire that fell within 100 yards of her, with Mazzoni radioing Pearl that he saw Japanese warplanes inbound overhead.
Author James C. Bunch, in his 1994 work Coast Guard Combat Veterans: Semper Paratus, says that “USCGC Tiger (WSC-152) was, by a few seconds, the first U.S. vessel to be fired upon in Pearl Harbor.”
Suffering no casualties from their early interactions with the Emperor’s submariners or aircrew, Tiger also inflicted no damage on the Japanese that day, being out of range of the carnage going on the harbor. Nonetheless, she did come under ineffective fire later that day from U.S. Army shore batteries that were amped up and loaded for bear.
The next day, HA-19 was recovered, aground on Waimanalo Beach in eastern Oahu. Manned by ENS Kazuo Sakamaki and CWO Kiyoshi Inagaki, the midget submarine had depleted its batteries on the evening of 7 December and was abandoned. Its scuttling charge failed, Sakamaki became the only Japanese serviceman captured in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Inagaki’s body was recovered later.
Surviving her baptism of fire, Tiger would still be very busy throughout December on the search for Japanese submarines off Hawaii, which at the time were running wild in the area. Sadly, this meant picking up the pieces left in their wake.
On 21 December, Tiger arrived at Kahului, Maui, with the 30 survivors of the sunken Matson Navigation Co. steamer SS Lahaina (5645grt). The waterlogged mariners had nine days earlier fallen prey to the Japanese submarine I-9 under CDR Akiyoshi Fujii, who had sunk her in a prolonged surface action 700 miles NE of Oahu. During their wait for rescue two of the crew had committed suicide by jumping from their overcrowded lifeboat while another two died of exposure.
It would not be the only time Tiger performed such a vital mission.
On 28 December, Tiger rescued one of the two lifeboats of the Matson steamer SS Manini (3545grt) which had been torpedoed and sunk 11 days prior by I-75/I-175 (CDR Inoue) while en route from Hawaii to San Francisco. The previous day, the cutter had picked up 13 men and the first officer of the Lykes steamer SS Prusa (5113grt) which had been torpedoed and sent to the bottom by I-172 (CDR Togami) on 16 December.
Tiger remained based out of Honolulu for the duration of the war on local patrol and antisubmarine duties in the Hawaiian Sea Frontier.
Tiger received one battle star for her wartime service.
By the end of the war, Tiger, like her sisters, had been fitted with both radar and sonar as well as upgrading their 3″/23 hood ornament for a more functional 40mm/60 Bofors single, their Lewis guns for 20mm/80s, and augmenting their depth charges with Mouse Trap ASW rocket devices.
Decommissioned 12 November 1947, Tiger was sold 14 June 1948.
As for the rest of the Active-class cutters, they served during the war, and two, Jackson (WSC-142) and Bedloe (WSC-128), were heroically lost in the 14 September 1944 hurricane off Cape Hatteras while aiding a torpedoed tanker.
These pint-sized warships were regular players on the frozen Greenland Patrol fighting the Germans in the “Weather War,” served as guard ships in places as diverse as Curacao and the Aleutians, were credited with at least one submarine kill, and performed air-sea rescue duties. Ten were refitted as buoy/net tenders during the war and reverted to patrol work afterward while two served as training ships.
While some, like Tiger, were disposed of in the late 1940s, others remained in USCG service into the 1960s and 1970s.
The last example in commission, USCGC Cuyahoga (WPC/WSC/WIX-157), was tragically lost in 1978 in a collision while working as the OCS training ship at Yorktown.
With her service to the country over with, Tiger later made the Pacific Northwest in her civilian life and by the 1960s was a coastal tug with Northland Marine Lines of Seattle, under the name Cherokee and later Polar Merchant. Her sister USCGC Bonham (WPC/WSC-129) worked alongside her as Polar Star.
Remaining active until at least 2012, Tiger/Polar Merchant was sold in poor condition to the Tyee Marina in Tacoma Washington where she was stripped, stuffed with styrofoam, and installed as a breakwater.
Still located at Tyree with everything above the deck removed, Tiger remains afloat and is one of the few surviving warships that was present at Pearl Harbor on that Infamous Day. Her hulk is moored next to the museum ship USS Wampanoag/USCGC Comanche (ATA/WMEC-202).
There has not been another USCGC Tiger.
Displacement: 232 tons
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 7.5 ft.
Propulsion: Two 6-cylinder, 150 hp Winton diesels (300hp total), twin screws
Speed: 10 knots, max
Range: 4,000 nm at 7 knots, cruise, with 6,800 gal of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 2 officers, 20 men
1 × 3″/23 caliber gun forward, small arms
Displacement: 320 tons (full load)
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 9 ft
Propulsion: Two 8-cylinder, 300 hp Cooper-Bessemer EN-9 diesels (600hp total), twin screws
Speed: 12 knots, max
Range: 3,500 nm at 7 knots, cruise with 6,800 gal of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 5 officers, 41 men
Sensors: QCN-2 sonar, SO-9 radar
1 × 40 mm/60 (single), forward
2 × 20 mm/70 (single), wings
2 × depth charge tracks, stern
2 × Mousetrap ASW, forward
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