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, Sept 13, 2017: The Queen of the Little White Fleet
Here we see the Barnegat-class seaplane tender, converted to a floating command ship, USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38), illuminated at night during a two-day visit to Basra, Iraq, as Middle East Force flagship in December 1960. You start life wanting to refuel PBYs and end up bobbing around the Persian Gulf for years…
The 41 Barnegats were 2,500-ton, 311-foot long armed auxiliaries capable of floating in 12 feet of water. They had room for not only seaplane stores but also 150 aviators and aircrew. Their diesel suite wasn’t fast, but they could travel 8,000 miles at 15.6 knots. Originally designed for two 5-inch/38-caliber guns, this could be doubled if needed (and often was) which complemented a decent AAA armament helped by radar and even depth charges and sonar for busting subs.
All pretty sweet for an auxiliary.
The subject of our story, USS Duxbury Bay, is named for a popular 3-mile long bay on the coast of Massachusetts between Duxbury Beach on the east, Saquish Neck on the southeast, and the mainland on the west. The bay is also home to a maritime school that currently cycles through some 2,000 young mariners per year, so there’s that.
Laid down at the Lake Washington Shipyards, in Houghton, Washington, she was a fine craft easily mistaken for a destroyer escort or patrol frigate, as exhibited by these pre-commissioning builder’s photos:
Commissioned on New Year’s Eve, 1944, she sailed for the war in the Pacific, arriving to support the 3rd Fleet at Kerama Retto off Okinawa, 26 April 1945 and fought in the campaign for that island through June, tending both seaplanes and small craft/PT-boats when needed while dodging kamikazes.
In July, Duxbury Bay shifted to Japanese home waters before ending the war off China. She served on occupation duty in the Far East through 13 July 1948, with two short breaks stateside, supporting patrol squadrons at Okinawa and Yokosuka, Japan; Jinsen, Korea; Shanghai and Tsingtao, China; before the victory of the Communists under Mao brought a general evacuation from the latter area.
In all, Duxbury earned two battle stars for World War II service and suffered no damage, the latter an accomplishment for any ship.
Starting 17 March 1949, she left Long Beach, California on a five-month circumnavigation sailing through the Pacific and Med to Norfolk, where she arrived in time for the Independence Day holiday.
While on this trip, she tagged in as the flagship of Task Force 126, the small body of U.S. warships and auxiliaries in the Middle East, primarily in the Persian Gulf.
During WWII, the so-called “Persian Corridor” was a vital route through Iran into Soviet Azerbaijan that the Allies used to pump over 4 million tons of Lend-Lease supplies through to the East Front– and turn Tehran away from Axis influence. While the Persian Gulf Command sunsetted in late 1945, TF 126 kept the lights on for the Navy in the increasingly important part of the globe.
Duxbury Bay would see much more of the region.
Beginning in 1950, the Navy disestablished TF 126 and replaced it with the Middle East Force, which would be made up of two rotating destroyers and a dedicated flagship, which would also rotate. The three command ships for the MEF were all converted Barnegat-class ships: USS Valcour (AVP-55), USS Greenwich Bay (AVP-41) and our very own Duxbury— the oldest of the lot and the only one of the trio that had seen overseas WWII service.
Among the conversions done to the vessels were the installation of air conditioning and extensive canvas awnings over the decks, a white paint job to help reflect heat and show their status as “peace boats” (which earned them the title of the “Little White Fleet” a play on Teddy Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet”), more commo gear, and a reduction in armament.
In general, the three flagships would swap out every four months and conduct leisurely cruises back and forth through the Med, waving the flag everywhere they went. As time went by, they became very active in President Eisenhower’s People-to-People program, delivering humanitarian aid ranging from food to coloring books and sewing machines in small backwater ports throughout the region– remember, as long as the harbor was at least 12 feet deep, they were good-to-go, and they went!
They served not only as a task group commander, interacting with Western allies (they were familiar sights at HMS Jufair, the Royal Navy base in Bahrain and its counterpart, HMS Sheba in Aden) but as a growing diplomatic tool for the State Department and U.S. companies (think=oil) looking to do business in the region, hosting state visits from local leaders and royalty (Duxford herself carried Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to Somaliland in 1953).
The ships performed search-and-rescue missions for lost aviators and overdue boats, helped evac Western civilians in times of tension, served on the periphery of the 1956 Suez Crisis (which sent rotating MEF ships around the Cape of Good Hope rather than through the Med), and just generally served as modern station ships, a throw back to the old 19th century practise of gun boat diplomacy.
In all, Duxbury Bay served 15 tours of duty in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean as flagship for ComMidEastFor between 1950 and 1966, plus her original stint with TF 126.
While on stateside “down time” at Norfolk, she participated in the Cuban Missile Crisis, refueed the occasional seaplane, helped run UDTs and amphibious training out of Little Creek, and was on the USS Kearsarge battle group that plucked Maj. Gordon Cooper’s “Faith 7,” the last Mercury space mission, out of the Atlantic on 16 May 1963 after 22 orbits.
After 15 rotations, it was decided to move to a more permanent forward-deployed flag and two of the three members of the LWF was pulled from service.
Duxbury Bay was decommissioned on 30 April 1966, and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register the next day. Both Duxberry and Greenwich Bay were sold for scrapping in July 1967, with just over 20~ years of service on their hulls.
Of their sisters, many endured for a good while longer than Duxbury.
These hardy seaplane tenders gave yeoman service to the Coast Guard and Navy through the Vietnam conflict. The last member of the LWF, Valcour, remained as the standalone forward deployed flag for the Middle East Force, dubbed AGF-1, until she was relieved by USS La Salle (AGF-3) in 1972. Valcour went to the scrappers herself in 1977.
The last of the Barnegat afloat was the USS Chincoteague/Ly Thuong Kiet/Andres Bonifacto, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, South Vietnamese, and Philippine navies that was finally withdrawn from frontline service with the later in 1993. She endured another decade as a pierside hulk used for the occasional training until she was sent to the breakers in 2003.
The closest thing to a monument for these vessels is the USS/USCGC Unimak (AVP-31/WAVP/WHEC/WTR-379), the last of the class in U.S. service, which was sunk in 1988 as an artificial reef off the Virginia coast in 150 feet of water after three years with the Navy and 40 with the Coaties. .
For their part, veterans from our ship visit Duxbury Bay in Mass often and hold ceremonies to remember their vessel.
As for the Middle East Force, it grew into CENTCOM in 1983, with the Navy contingent labeled United States Naval Forces Central Command (USNAVCENT) of course, and it is quite a bit larger than three little white seaplane tenders.
Also, if you are in Texas, Faith 7 is currently displayed at Space Center Houston.
Displacement 1,766 t.(lt) 2,800 t.(fl)
Length 311′ 6″
Beam 41′ 1″
Draft 12′ 5″
Speed 18.2 knots (trial)
Diesel 2,055 Bbls
Gasoline 84,340 Gals
Fairbanks-Morse, 38D8 1/2 Diesel engines
single Fairbanks-Morse Main Reduction Gears
Ship’s Service Generators
two Diesel-drive 100Kw 450V A.C.
two Diesel-drive 200Kw 450V A.C.
two propellers, 6,400shp
8,000 miles at 15.6 knots
Complement (as designed)
USN Aviation Squadrons
one single 5″/38 cal. Mk 12, Mod 1 dual purpose gun mount
one quad 40mm AA gun mount
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts
four twin 20mm AA gun mounts
depth charge racks
one single 5″/38 cal. Mk 12, Mod 1 dual purpose gun mount
one quad 40mm AA gun mount
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts
one Mk 52 Mod 3 director
one Mk 26 fire control radar
one quad 40mm AA gun mount (deleted 1962)
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts (deleted 1962)
Assorted .50 cal M2 machine guns, small arms
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Five TF55-based Cyclone-class coastal patrol ships —USS Tempest (PC 2), USS Squall (PC 7), USS Chinook (PC 9), USS Firebolt (PC 10) and USS Thunderbolt (PC 12)— recently had the chance to sling Griffin SSMs at moving target sleds to demonstrate their ability to hit surface targets, like small boats.
The tests came late last month, around the time of increased Iranian challenges in international waters from Revolutionary Guard small craft in the PG.
The MK 60 Griffin Missile System uses a four-cell box launcher about the size of a Barcalounger, with one each mounted port and starboard on the 179-foot PC, giving them 8 modified Hellfire missiles at hand to regulate small craft–and I would bet low/slow-flying aircraft as well.
The system began fielding in 2015 and uses a Battle Management System (BMS) based on a ruggedized “Toughbook” laptop is operated from the bridge drawing from target imagery from the ship’s mast-mounted Bright Star EO/IR camera. Range is listed at 3nm, but is likely a good bit longer.
While the 13-pound warhead isn’t likely to sink a frigate, it and the kinetic energy of the missile itself is probably good enough to scratch anything less than 100-footer while a salvo of four (as they can be ripple fired to the same illuminated target) could ruin the day of a corvette-sized warship if needed. Good news is they can’t be chaffed or EW’d away due to the IR nature of their warhead seeker. Bad news is the target has to be lit up the whole time by Bright Star which limits a shoot-and-scoot engagement.
Saudi Naval forces along the Hodeida coast have found and cleared a number of Houthi-placed sea mines.
Saudi and Yemeni naval engineers cleared Iranian-made mines which Houthi militias planted along the coast of the Hodeida area.
Mines were swept by the water currents to the sea so the coalition forces had to look for them and remove them to protect fishermen and oil tankers in international waters.
Few days ago, a mine blew up killing a number of fishermen and injuring others.
The largest number of mines was planted along the coasts in north and south Hodeida with technical help from Iranian and Hezbollah experts who entered Yemen for this particular task, according to the Yemeni legitimate army.
Meanwhile, it’s apparently open season on Somali refugees encountered at sea, with 42 reportedly killed off the Yemeni coast near Hodeida in a helicopter-borne attack. Word on the street is that the chopper came from allies of the recognized Yemeni government (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have all reportedly used AH-64s in the conflict), while other sources pin it on the Houthi who are lacking in helicopter gunships.
And, to further amp up regional tensions for mariners, Somali pirates recently returned from retirement due to bad fishing grounds have reportedly hijacked a dhow in the vicinity of Eyl, a city in northern Somalia that was once a hub for maritime piracy. Local authorities suggest that they may intend to use the small vessel for hijacking a merchant ship further offshore.
And the beat goes on…
You could imagine this in a sepia tone and easily see an old Connecticut-class predreadnought here rather than a modern DDG.
Nitze is named for Paul Henry Nitze, who served first as LBJs SECNAV and later as his SECDEF, replacing Cyrus Vance. Before that he was on James Forrestal’s staff in the big one, served Truman in NSC positions, and had been appointed by JFK to be an Assistant Secretary of Defense. He would later be one of the main players behind the scenes in the SALT talks and Reagan’s chief negotiator of the INF Treaty in 1988.
As for the vessel, she was commissioned 5 March 2005 as the 43rd Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. A Flight IIA Burke with the super-length 5″/62 forward, she has been very active in the Gulf region in recent years to include hammering some Houthi radar sites involved in the recent missile launches threatening USS Mason and other vessels operating in international waters in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb via TLCMs.