Robert Morris was an Englishman, born in Liverpool in 1734. Coming to the Pennsylvania colony in his teens, by 1775 he was a wealthy merchant and turned his business acumen into buying arms for the colonial militia. This role grew until Alexander Hamilton described him as the “Financier of the Revolution.” One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and for a time considered the “de facto commander” of the Continental Navy (he even sold the first armed man-of-war to Congress), Morris later turned down the role of the country’s first treasury secretary, suggesting Hamilton for the position instead.
Rather than be remembered on the $10 bill, Morris was honored by four early U.S. Navy vessels that were named after him between 1776 and 1846, and well as a few Coast Guard cutters (which until 1967 was under the Treasury Department).
The first cutter named after Morris was a Baltimore Clipper-style schooner built in 1831 at the New York Navy Yard. Some 73-feet in length and armed with a half-dozen 9-pounders, she was not a commanding vessel but was good enough to bust smugglers and fight pirates. Nonetheless, USRC Morris participated in the Mexican War as part of Capt. John Webster’s nine-cutter squadron and, on her way back to the East Coast, was driven ashore at Key West by a hurricane in 1846.
The second USRC Morris, commissioned in 1848, was a 102-foot topsail schooner constructed of yellow pine, white and live oak, locust, cedar, and mahogany. Armed in 1861 with “1 x 32-pounder pivot-mounted cannon; 1 x brass 12-pound howitzer; 12 Maynard rifles; 12 smoothbore muskets; 12 pistols; 19 cutlasses; 11 boarding pikes and 18 battle axes,” Morris was notably detached to scour the North Atlantic that year in search of the Confederate privateer brig Jefferson Davis.
She was sold in 1868.
The third– and final U.S. vessel named for Morris– was a 125-foot Active-class Coast Guard cutter built in 1927 at American Brown Boveri Electric Corp., Camden, NJ.
We have profiled the 125s, best known as the “buck-and-a-quarter” class, in several Warship Wednesdays (See: Warship Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019: The Other Tora of Pearl Harbor).
USCGC Morris (WPC-147/WSC-147/WMEC-147) operated first out of New London until 22 November 1928. She then assumed her permanent station at Oakland, California, on 13 January 1929, conducting patrol operations and operating intermittently against rumrunners through 1934. She was then transferred to Seward, Alaska until 1937, before ultimately returning to the West Coast.
Transferring to Navy control 1 November 1941, Morris was designated a subchaser and assigned to patrol and rescue operations out of San Diego during WWII until 1 January 1946. She assumed postwar USCG patrol duties out of San Pedro, which was her permanent station through 1969.
Decommissioned on 7 August 1970 after 43 years of hard service, she was then transferred to Boy Scouts where she was active with the Sea Scout program in Stockton as SSS Morris until recent years. In the early 2000s, she received $2 million in repairs and restoration paid for by Bob French and was donated in 2015 to the Liberty-Maritime Museum, who has had her for sale since 2016, priced at around $250K.
The ad for posterity:
1927 125′ Coast Guard Cutter Morris asking $90,000 obo – an amazing vessel for this price! Major overhaul ($2 million approx.) completed in 2010. Cummins KTAs, Northern Lights gen sets, ARPA radars, bow thruster. All wiring and piping replaced. Hull plating, railings, tanks and decks replaced as needed. Operational but due for a haul-out and one prop repair. Anchored near Rio Vista, recently cruised but surplus to our needs. Suitable as an ocean cruising vessel or live-aboard. State of California registration, current insurance.
What more could you ask for?
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– 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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Over the weekend in the freshwater Great Lakes harbor at Burns Harbor, Indiana, USS Indianapolis (LCS-17), the latest Freedom-class littoral combat ship, commissioned. She is the fourth such vessel, and second surface combatant, to carry the moniker. While I would personally have liked to see a cruiser, LHA, or destroyer carry the name due to the legacy of CA-58, the second Indianapolis, I am nonetheless happy to see the name on the Navy list once again. Indy is the 19th LCS to be commissioned and is expected to be assigned to Littoral Combat Ship Squadron Two in Mayport. She is the fifth such Freedom assigned to LCSRON2.
Elsewhere in U.S. Navy news last week, the latest Virginia-class attack submarine, PCU USS Delaware (SSN 791) was delivered to the Navy by Ingalls. Notably, when she is fully commissioned as the 7th Delaware, it will end a nearly century-long drought on the Navy List for that name which was last issued to Battleship No. 28 in 1909, a vessel that was broken up for scrap under the 1921 Washington Naval Treaty. SSN-791 is the 18th Virginia and last of the Block III boats.
USS Gerald R. Ford
Further, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) finally departed Newport News Shipbuilding and returned to sea for the first time since beginning their post-shakedown availability in July 2018 (!) to get back to the business of conducting sea trials, now well over a year since she was commissioned. Navy officials hope she will be ready for regular fleet service by 2024.
John S. McCain
Speaking of gone for a while, USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) is underway to conduct comprehensive at-sea testing. She has been sidelined for repairs and extensive, accelerated upgrades over the last two years, following a collision in August 2017.
“This whole crew is eager to get back to sea, and that’s evident in the efforts they’ve made over the last two years to bring the ship back to fighting shape, and the energy they’ve put into preparing themselves for the rigors of at-sea operations,” said CDR Ryan T. Easterday, John S. McCain‘s commanding officer. “I’m extremely proud of them as we return the ship to sea, and return to the operational fleet more ready than ever to support security and stability throughout the region.”
And in South Pacific news, the planned 75-year lease on the entire island of Tulagi (Tulaghi) in the Solomon Islands looks like it is going to fall through. Well known to students of WWII, the Japanese occupied Tulagi in May 1942 in the days just before the Battle of the Coral Sea and was captured by the 1st Marine Raiders that August, forming an important PT-boat base during the Guadalcanal Campaign (JFK’s PT-109, part of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 2, operated from there.) They proved important in winning control of “The Slot” during that campaign. Likewise, if the Japanese had held Tulagi that summer, the whole operation would have been just that much harder to pull off.
As the crow flies, Tulagi could have been a strategic key to that part of the region as it is directly between Hawaii and Australia. This is especially true if you could pick up those keys for cheap on an extended multi-generational lease.
”I want to applaud the decision of the Solomon Islands attorney general to invalidate the Chinese effort to lease the island of Tulagi for 75 years,” said Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper. “This is an important decision to reinforce sovereignty, transparency, and the rule of law. Many nations in the Pacific have discovered far too late that Chinese use of economic and military levers to expand their influence often is detrimental to them and their people.”
The U.S. Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron, or HITRON, is celebrating its 20th anniversary and shows no signs of slowing down. In 1999, six pilots and four newly USMC-trained aviation gunners were brought together to prove the concept of armed helicopters — a mission the USCG had steered away from in the past.
Armed with stun grenades as well as M16A2 rifles and an FN M240 general-purpose machine gun for warning shots, they carried a Robar RC50 long-range heavy rifle for disabling fire. During this early phase, the group encountered five go-fasts and stopped all five with disabling fire. They arrested 17 smugglers — none of whom were injured thanks to the accurate fire of the Coasties.
After this test, the Coast Guard gave the go-ahead to move forward with a full-scale squadron sized unit and HITRON was born.
Starting with a leased helicopter (an MD Explorer dubbed the MH 90 Enforcer), they eventually moved to field eight sweet Augusta AW109s (also leases) designated as MH-68A Stingrays from 2000 to 2008.
Today, more than 200 USCG personnel are currently assigned to the squadron, based at Cecil Field’s Hangar 13 in Jacksonville, Florida. From there, helicopters and crews are deployed to wherever they are needed most, now using the standard Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin.
The precision heavy hitter of the aviation gunner today is the Barrett M107A1 .50-caliber heavy rifle. Braced against the doorframe and the strap of the rescue hoist, the 28-pound Barrett can be balanced in a way that’s familiar to any rifleman using a standard sling just on a much larger scale, providing a surprisingly stable platform from which to shoot.
The gunners train with M33 ball ammo to hit a 16×16-inch target — roughly the engine housing of an outboard motor.
HITRON is the only unit of its kind in the U.S. military and officials say they have stopped more than $21 billion worth of illegal drugs in the last 20 years.
It seems like the Coasties aren’t even having to try these days.
While cruising from the builder’s yard at Pascagoula to her future homeport in Honolulu, where she is set to be commissioned 24 August, the country’s newest National Security Cutter, PCU USCGC Midgett (WMSL 757), bagged a top-level narco boat.
Midgett seized over a ton of coke worth $64 million “from a low-profile go-fast vessel (LPV) interdicted in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean.”
The inside of the boat showed that, A) potential smugglers can’t be claustrophobic, but B) are likely fans of Narcos on Netflix.
Notably, the move was a lay-up as a Burke in the area had bird dogged the smuggler and handed the bust over to the Midgett to handle.
From the Coast Guard:
On July 25 a U.S. Navy MH-60R Sea Hawk aircrew embarked aboard the USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) sighted a low-profile go-fast vessel. As the helicopter approached, a hatch opened on the top of the vessel and three passengers were seen jettisoning objects.
The Michael Murphy remained with the suspected smuggling vessel until the Midgett arrived on scene to conduct a law enforcement boarding. Midgett’s boarding team seized approximately 2,100 pounds of cocaine from the interdiction and apprehended three suspected smugglers.
“Even though the cutter is still in a pre-commission status, this interdiction showcases how ready our crew is and how capable the national security cutters are,” said Capt. Alan McCabe, Midgett’s commanding officer. “It also demonstrates the importance of our partnership with the U.S. Navy, whose contributions are vital in stemming the flow of drugs into the United States.”
Pro Publica had this take on the Navy’s current state of minesweeper deficit with the protracted LCS mine countermeasures systems still a long ways off and the Avenger-class ships getting the short end of the readiness dollar.
It’s actually pretty interesting.
The U.S. Navy officer was eager to talk.
He’d seen his ship, one of the Navy’s fleet of 11 minesweepers, sidelined by repairs and maintenance for more than 20 months. Once the ship, based in Japan, returned to action, its crew was only able to conduct its most essential training — how to identify and defuse underwater mines — for fewer than 10 days the entire next year. During those training missions, the officer said, the crew found it hard to trust the ship’s faulty navigation system: It ran on Windows 2000.
The officer, hoping that by speaking out he could provoke needed change, wound up delaying the scheduled interview. He apologized. His ship had broken down again.
“We are essentially the ships that the Navy forgot,” he said of the minesweepers.
Founded in 1865 to fight counterfeiters as part of the Treasury Department, the U.S. Secret Service today has something like 7,000 agents, uniformed division personnel and support staff. For the first 130~ years of their existence, they carried wheel guns, alternating between Colts and Smiths over the decades. In the 1990s, they went semi-auto, adopting first the Sig Sauer P228 in 9mm and then the P229R in spicy .357SIG.
Now, it seems they have elected to go Glock, piggybacking on CBP’s recent huge $85 million contract.
More in my column at Guns.com.