Warship Wednesday, April 12, 2023: Wind Them Up
Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, April 12, 2023: Wind Them Up
Above we see USS Winder (PCS-1376), the leader of her class of 89 very interesting Patrol Craft, Sweepers, seen in a World War II image, likely while on coastal escort out of Miami in 1944-45.
You’ll note that, although she is only 136 feet long overall, she is very well armed with both twin Mousetrap ASW rocket racks and a 3″/50 DP mount forward, four 20mm Oerlikon singles amidships, a 40mm Bofors aft, four depth charge projectors, and two depth charge racks over her stern.
These criminally forgotten little patrol boats went on to serve a myriad of roles in the Cold War.
Meet the 1376s
With the British 105-ft Admiralty-type motor minesweepers (MMS) making a good impression on the U.S. Navy– after all, the Royal Navy ordered more than 300 of those hardy 295-ton wooden coastal mine hunters from 1940 onwards and used them for everything from gunboat to light salvage in addition to their mine warfare roles– the idea of a PCS seemed a good one to the Americans.
Whereas the Admiralty 105s typically only carried a few Oerlikons in addition to their sweep gear and acoustic hammer, the Americans needed something with longer legs and, they felt, a lot more firepower. As described above, they got it with a mix of 3-inch, 40mm, and 20mm guns as well as the capacity to carry as many as 50 depth charges to feed their racks and K-guns.
Plus, there was Mousetrap.
They carried an SF-1 type radar (some later fitted with more advanced SO-1 or SU-1 sets) and a QHA sonar set (later upgraded to the more mine-sensitive FM sonar in some ships).
Simple and cheap, their engineering suite consisted of a pair of General Motors 8-268A diesel engines, generating 800hp, using Snow and Knobstedt single reduction gear, turning two shafts. This enabled a top speed of 14 knots but meant the cruising speed was still in the 12-13 knot range.
Constructed by firms as diverse as the Burger Boat Co of Manitowoc, Tacoma Boat, Western Boat in Tacoma, Astoria Marine Construction Co., Bellingham Marine Railway & Boatbuilding Co, Wheeler Shipbuilding of Long Island, Robert Jacob Shipyard in the Bronx, Greenport Basin & Construction Co in Connecticut, W.F. Stone & Son Shipyard in Alameda, and the Gibbs Gas Engine Co of Jacksonville, these warships could be made fast and without tying up a lot of precision slipways or using tough-to-source material.
Our class leader was laid down on 13 October 1942 as PC-1376 at Wheeler on Long Island, soon reclassified to PCS-1376 while still under construction, and commissioned on 9 July 1943.
As befitting an overgrown armed yacht built on Long Island, her skipper was LT J. P. Morgan III, USNR, (Harvard 1940), the great-grandson of robber baron J. Pierpont Morgan and son of Junius Spencer Morgan III– the latter at the time an OSS officer. Along with three other officers (two ensigns and an LT jg) and 54 enlisted, they provided PC-1376‘s first crew.
Check out the rates, for those curious, as seen in the ship’s war diary:
Her first ammo draw from Iona Island on the Hudson River included 296 3-inch shells (270 service, 16 target, 2 practice, 8 dummy), 1,784 40mm shells (1760 service, 16 target, 8 dummy), 2,800 rounds of .45 for the Tommy guns and M1911s in her small arms locker; and 1,800 rounds of .30 caliber for her M1903A3 rifles. This did not include depth charges, Mousetrap bombs, and 20mm ammo.
The class leader had a rather boring war career, being ordered for duty as a school ship at the Submarine Chaser School located in Miami after she completed her shakedown. She would spend the rest of the war there, alternating between use as a training bot and in coastwise patrol, riding shotgun on convoys from Miami to Cuba and back.
But our story is about all the 1376s.
The rest of the class…
A baker’s dozen became Control Submarine Chasers (PCSC) almost as soon as they were completed. This conversion was simple, removing the 40mm mount to allow a radio shack to be built. In this role, they could better control swarms of inshore landing craft headed toward the beach.
A sort of mini amphibious command ship.
This was detailed by the NHHC further in its coverage of the Iwo Jima landings:
The Iwo Jima operation provided the first test of the amphibious forces’ newly formed permanent control organization. This organization was established following the Marianas campaign, where it was realized that proper control of the ship-to-shore movement of the amphibious craft had become a continuing 24-hour-a-day task, requiring specially trained control personnel and specially equipped control vessels.
The control organization for the Iwo Jima operation consisted of the Transport division, Transport Squadron, and Central (Amphibious Group or Force) Control Officers, permanently assigned to the staff of their respective commanders. This organization now parallels the echelons of both the beach party and the shore party. Control officers were embarked in the same ships as their opposite number in the beach and shore party, giving the maximum amount of time for coordination and understanding of each other’s problems prior to the landing.
Each control officer was provided with a control vessel (PCE, PCS, PC, or SC) which had been previously equipped with special communication facilities and provided with a control communication team and advisors from the troops. The control vessels were obtained and equipped, and the personnel were trained in their specialized duties, well in advance of the operation. As a result, for the first time the task of controlling the ship-to-shore movement, both during the assault and unloading phases, was handled by a “professional.” In addition, the control-equipped craft was provided to the different troop staffs for use as floating command posts.
Another 33 became Auxiliary Motor Minesweepers (YMS), renumbered YMS 446-479. This involved landing most of their ASW weapons and loading up on the sweeping gear.
Some managed to get some real trigger time in, for instance, USS PCS-1379 participated in the invasion of Peleliu and Angaur Islands, shelled Japanese targets on Eil Malk and in the Abappaomogan Islands, then saddled up for the Okinawa campaign.
PCS-1391 took part in the Leyte and Lingayen Gulf operations in the Philippines, serving as a landing craft direction vessel. Then at Okinawa, she carried Maj. Gen. Pedro del Valle, the Commanding General of the First Marine Division, to the beach during the initial assault landings.
PCS-1452 participated in operations at the Marianas, Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. She had lots of company, as no less than 10 of her class were present at the latter two operations.
YMS-481 (exPCS-1462) was lost to Japanese shore batteries off Tarakan, Borneo, on 2 May 1945.
PCS-1396 was damaged off Okinawa by a Japanese Kamikaze but would shrug it off and continued serving until 1949.
PCS-1407, PCSC-1418, PCS-1440, PCS-1454, PCS-1461, and YMS-472 were lost to the September-October 1945 Typhoons Ida and Louise off Japan and Okinawa.
PCS-1435 was present in Tokyo Bay during the Japanese surrender ceremony in September 1945.
PCS-1445 would serve with the 7th Fleet for the last ten months of the war then spend another eight months as the harbor entrance control vessel for the Yangtze River at Shanghai.
Some would serve in the Korean conflict as mine hunters, with PCS-1416 for instance clearing a channel more than 60 miles inland from the Yellow Sea and up the Taedong River to Chinnampo.
Oddly, while many were laid up in the 1950s, they picked up a series of names, typically those of small towns. This non-inclusive list shows some of the variety. Sadly, many of these towns have never had another warship named in their honor.
- Provincetown (PCS 1378)
- Rushville (PCS 1380)
- Attica (PCS 1383)
- Eufaula (PCS 1384)
- Hollidaysburg (PCS 1385)
- Hampton (PCS-1386)
- Beaufort (PCS 1387)
- Littlehales (AGSC 7, ex-PCS-1388)
- Deming (PCS 1392)
- Sanderling (MHC 49)
- Dutton (AGSC 8, ex-PCS-1396)
- Coquille (PCS 1400)
- McMinnville (PCS 1401)
- Elsmere (EPCS 1413)
- Swallow (MSC[O] 36)
- Prescott (PCS 1423)
- Verdin (MSC[O] 38)
- Conneaut (PCS 1444)
- Waxbill (MHC 50)
- John Blish (AGSC 10)
- Medrick (AMc 203)
- Minah (MHC 14)
Shifting duties and designations
Postwar, besides utility work, many became naval reserve training vessels, with their shallow draft allowing them to be stationed well inland. For example, PCS-1423 was stationed at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and PCS-1431 in Louisville.
Their designations often shifted to Coastal Minesweepers (AMc), or Motor Minesweepers (AMS) in the late 1940s, designations they carried until they were decommissioned and struck.
Another quartet became Coastal Surveying Ships (PCS-1388, PC-1396, PC-1404, and PC-1457 became AGSC 7/8/9/10).
Three of the ships, PCS-1393, PCS-1456, and PC-1465, would be reclassed no less than four times as a YMS, then an AMS, then a Coastal Minesweeper Underwater Locator (AMCU), and finally a Coastal Minehunter (MHC)– carrying five different pennant numbers in 12 years.
PC-1413 and PC-1431 would be reclassified as Experimental Patrol Craft Sweepers (EPCS).
At least three picked up the curious designation of Coastal Minesweeper, Old (MSC(O)).
By this time, their fit had changed significantly, shedding most of their guns and Mousetrap devices in lieu of a large Hedgehog ASW device forward (which it was thought could also prove effective in minefield destruction).
While some were disposed of by scrapping as soon as 1947, the Navy would look to transfer others to allies and other missions.
One, PC-1458, served both as a Navy survey ship (AGS-6), in 1944, then was transferred to the Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1948 as USC&GS Derickson, serving until 1954.
Two other ships of the class, PC-1405 and PC-1450, were also transferred to the survey and named USC&GS Bowie (CSS 27) and USC&GS Hodgson (CSS 26), respectively. Bowie served until 1967 when she was scrapped, and Hodgson was transferred the following year to South Korea for further service.
One, PCS-1425, was transferred by the WSA to the Puget Sound Naval Academy in 1947 to serve as a training vessel. At the same time, PCS-1445, formerly of the Yangtze squadron, went to Texas A&M.
As with any WWII-era American warship smaller than a heavy cruiser, several were transferred to the Allies as Lend Lease.
The Russians got a full dozen PCSs in 1945 which were active well into the late 1950s, serving as dive boats, degaussing ships, as well as mine vessels. Unlike most larger vessels, these were never repatriated.
Three were handed over to the Philippines at Subic Bay post-war as military aid (USS PCS-1399, USS PCS-1403, and PC-1404) and served into the late 1960s.
The Japanese got one (PCS-1416) while the South Koreans picked up five (PC-1426, PCS-1428, PCS-1443, PC-1445, and PCS-1448) and continued to use them into the 1970s. Meanwhile, Turkey got PCS-1436.
The end game
The last in Navy inventory was McMinnville (PCS 1401), placed out of service and struck from the Naval Register in August 1962. Sold the next year to a group of treasure hunters in south Florida, she remained in the Keys as a yacht for another 20 years.
Others were bought up at auction by fishing companies and converted to that life, bumping around with nets and dredges as late as the 1990s, often under Caribbean nation or Panamanian flags.
One, ex-PCS-1438/YMS-470/AMS-37/MSC(O)-37, was bought by General Motors in 1959 and used as a corporate yacht in California, then was acquired by Windjammer Cruises to operate as the M/Y Royal Taipan out of Hawaii. She was famously almost lost at sea in 1990.
As for class leader Winder (PCS 1376), she was decommissioned after the war in February 1947, used for a time as a Naval Reserve training vessel at Norfolk, then was laid up in Florida where she was struck in 1957 and sold. Her ultimate fate is unknown. I’d like to think that she is still out there somewhere in some sort of low-pressure use.
As far as I can tell, there are no surviving PCS-1376s afloat and they left behind few relics to prove they even existed, save for some war diaries in the National Archives.
Ships are more than steel
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
That some ships have a
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Interesting story on the patrol craft, Chris. Twin GM diesels–but no exhaust stack(s) evident in the photos….?
My father John F Smith sailed on the 1376 when she was launched. He went on to serve on PC 593 in the Pacific
My father John F Smith sailed as a sonar man on the 1476 when she was launched. He later served in the Pacific on PC 593.