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Warship Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017: The Real McCoy

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, Nov. 8, 2017: The Real McCoy

Here we see the mighty U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Seneca (CG-17), a warship that served in both World Wars and had a tussle or two while enforcing some unpopular laws.

Classified when constructed as a “derelict destroyer” for the then-U.S. Revenue Marine designed to deep-six semi-submerged vessels on the high seas while towing in those still salvageable, she was built by Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Company in Virginia and commissioned 12 November 1908, named after the storied Native American tribe of the Iroquois confederation formerly living in New York state.

At least four Seneca’s served in the Navy during the Civil War and Great War while a fifth, AT-91/ATF-91, was a 205-foot Navajo-class fleet tug built during WWII and sunk as a target in 2003. However, the Revenue Service cutter that is the subject of this post was the first cutter by that name.

Built at a price of $244,000, she was a follow-on to the five modern cutters ordered at the turn of the Century, that, at 200~ feet and 1,200-tons were decent steel-hulled vessels that could serve their peacetime use as well as be capable modern naval auxiliary gunboats in times of conflict.

Constructed with lessons learned from those craft, the one-off Seneca tipped the scales at 1,259-tons and went 204-feet overall. Able to float in 18-feet of seawater, her twin boiler plant could chug her along at an economical 12-knots. A quartet of 6-pounders (57mm guns) and a supply of naval mines and explosives for scuttling completed her armament.

Early in her career, with black hull and buff stack

Her first “job” was helping to police the massive Hudson-Fulton international naval parade in New York. Her commander during the Hudson-Fulton parade was Captain J. C. Cantwell, USRCS, and she was shown off to both visiting dignitaries and naval personnel.

Seneca immediately went to a harder line of work, in 1909 towing the stricken White Star liner RMS Republic, which sent the first wireless distress signal in history via the then-novel Marconi apparatus after the vessel was mortally wounded in a collision with the steamer Florida off Nantucket.

Then, of course, there was the derelict duty and anti-smuggling work.

Seneca with a derelict in tow

In March 1913, Seneca responded to the first International Ice Patrol, established in the aftermath of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Operating out of Halifax, Nova Scotia and ranging as far as Iceland, Seneca made no less than 10 patrols in the next three years looking for wandering ice, on one occasion saving adrift survivors of the British freighter Columbian.

During this time the Revenue Marine became part of the new Coast Guard, and Seneca changed her title and took part in the increasingly tense neutrality patrol work as the world descended into the Great War.

Upon the U.S. Declaration of War against the Kaiser in April 1917, the new service became part of the Navy. Accordingly, Seneca landed her battery of 6-pounders, picked up a new one of a quartet of 3″/50 cal guns, and for the next 28 months served as a haze gray colored gunboat for the Navy.

Seneca was assigned to Squadron 2, Division 6, of the Atlantic Fleet Patrol forces, heading to Europe along with the other large blue water cutters on convoy escort and general anti-submarine missions. Assigned to Base 9 (Gibraltar), Seneca joined the cutters Algonquin, Manning, Ossipee, Tampa, and Yamacraw.

USCGC Seneca. Description: (Coast Guard Cutter, 1908) Members of the ship’s crew pose on board, circa 1917-1918. The original image is printed on postcard stock. Donation of Charles R. Haberlein Jr., 2009. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106709

Venturing into U-boat-infested seas proved dangerous for the small group of cutters. The small Ossipee, 165-feet of rock and roll, escorted an impressive 32 convoys consisting of 596 Allied vessels and made contacts with enemy submarines on at least 8 occasions, on one of these reportedly side-stepping a torpedo by about 15 feet. Tampa was not so lucky, sunk just six weeks before the end of the war by a torpedo hit with all hands; 111 Coast Guardsmen, 4 U.S. Navy personnel, and 16 passengers.

Seneca herself ran 30 convoys and escorted 580 ships, plucking 81 survivors from the torpedoed RN sloop HMS Cowslip in April. 1918 off Gibraltar, and 27 survivors from the stricken British freighter SS Queen in June.

Then came the Wellington.

Part of the 21-ship Convoy OM-99, outbound from Milford Haven to Gibraltar, the 5,600-ton freighter Wellington suffered an explosion that blew the first 30-feet off her bow and Seneca, responding to the scene, chased off a surfaced U-boat with her 3-inchers. Sending over a 20-man crew of volunteers to help keep the coal-laden merchantman from foundering with the hopes of making for Brest, about 350 miles away on the French coast.

While they could slow the flooding, and make 7.5-knots, a storm set in and the act turned hopeless, with 1LT Fletcher W. Brown ordering the boarding crew and remaining Wellington sailors to abandon ship and take their chances in the water.

Coast Guard Cutter SENECA places a damage control crew on board the torpedoed tanker WELLINGTON in an attempt to keep it from sinking September 16, 1918.

However, 11 went down with the freighter and were awarded the Navy Cross for their heroism while Acting Machinist William L. Boyce received the Navy Distinguished Service Medal for staying in the engine room until the very end. The final message from Wellington, sent by Electrician 2nd Class Morrill C. Mason, USCG: “We are turning over, you’ve done everything you could. Goodbye.”

In all, Seneca received three letters of commendation from the Admiralty for her service in Europe. She fired upon or dropped depth charges on no less than 21 occasions, often credited with sinking one submarine, though post-war analysis never firmed that up.

USS SENECA (1917-1919) Flying homeward bound pennant. Description Catalog NH 108752

Chopping back to Coast Guard duty in 1919, she picked up her white scheme, but she still had another battle to fight.

Once enforcement of the Volstead Act began in January 1920, it was the Treasury Department that was given the unpopular task of enforcing Prohibition, and “T-men” of the newly formed Bureau of Prohibition (which became ATF in 1930 and was transferred briefly to the Justice Department) became a popular term at the time for those engaged in the act of chasing down bootleggers, speakeasies and those with hidden stills. It should be noted that Elliot Ness and his “Untouchables” were T-men and not G-men of the FBI, as is commonly believed and for every public hero of the force, there were heavy-handed and unprofessional agents such as “Kinky” Thompson who gave the work a black eye– literally.

Nevertheless, as a branch of the Treasury going back to the days of Alexander Hamilton, the Coast Guard became responsible for enforcement on the seas, fighting booze pirates and rum-runners smuggling in territorial waters. The agency was hard-pressed to chase down fast bootlegging boats shagging out to “Rum Row” where British and Canadian merchantmen rested on the 3-mile limit loaded with cases of good whiskey and rum for sale.

This led the agency to borrow 31 relatively new destroyers from the Navy, an act that would have been akin to the USN transferring all the FFG7 frigates to the Coast Guard during the “cocaine cowboy” days of the 1980s.

However, Seneca and the other legacy cutters held their own as well.

Seneca, August 4, 1922, Harris & Ewing, photographer, via LOC

One of the more infamous on Rum Row was William “Bill” McCoy, a graduate of the Pennsylvania Nautical School in Philadelphia who went on to sail the seven seas for two decades before he opened a boatyard in Florida. Picking up first one schooner and then another, the 130-foot British-flagged Arethusa which he renamed Tomoka, McCoy specialized in running liquor from the Bahamas and Bermuda as well as from the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon (where Arethusa flew a French flag and went by the name Marie Celeste) to New England, reportedly making $300,000 in profit for each trip. His profits were high because he never stepped on his booze and cut it with water, with his whiskey being passed off as “the real McCoy.”

It was a night in November 1923 when Seneca came across McCoy and his hooch-laden Arethusa off the New Jersey coast.

From Rum Wars at Sea:

Agents in cooperation with the Coast Guard put into effect without warning the principal of search and seizure beyond the 3-mile limit, realizing the likelihood of legal complications. The cutter Seneca arrived near Tomoka at daybreak and found the schooner riding placidly at anchor. The ship was first boarded by agents, and as soon as they were on board a fist fight developed in which all hands took part. The agents, though badly beaten up, were able to search her and found 200 cases of whiskey remaining from an original cargo of 4,200. Then Tomoka got underway with the agents on board. Seneca ordered her to stop. When she disregarded this, the cutter sent two shots screaming across her bows with the desired result. She was then boarded by a larger group of coast guardsmen from Seneca and seized.

It was the end of McCoy’s rum-running days and he soon headed off to federal prison on an abbreviated sentence, with Arethusa sold at public auction.

Still, Seneca proved a scourge for those who remained in the business.

Aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Seneca, Prohibition agents examine barrels of alcohol confiscated from a rum runner boat. Via LOC

Aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Seneca, Prohibition agents stand amidst cases of scotch whiskey confiscated from a rum runner boat. Via LOC

One of the rum runners against its nemesis: the K-13091 alongside the Coast Guard cutter Seneca at the end of the chase, 1924. Via LOC. Note the 1903s and BAR

Badly worn out, Seneca was placed out of service in 1927-28 for reconstruction and spent the rest of Prohibition stationed in New York, transferring to San Juan in 1932 and Mobile in 1934. Showing her age, she was decommissioned 21 March 1936 and stored at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore to make room for the new 327-foot Treasury-class cutters then under construction.

In September, the 28-year-old disarmed cutter was sold to the Boston Iron and Metal Co., of Baltimore, Maryland for $6,605, who did nothing with her and subsequently resold her to the Texas Refrigeration Steamship Line to turn into a banana boat on the Guatemala to Gulfport run. However, TRSL went bankrupt and Seneca never left Baltimore, leaving her to be reacquired at auction by Boston Iron, who still owned her in 1941 and weren’t doing anything with the old girl.

With another war coming, the Coast Guard took Seneca back into service in 1941. However, she was deemed to be in too poor a condition for escort duty and was instead shuffled to “The Real” McCoy’s alma mater, the Pennsylvania Nautical School in Philadelphia for use as a training vessel. Seneca, renamed Keystone State, replaced the old 1,000-ton gunboat USS Annapolis in September 1942.

During this time, admission requirements at the school were raised to high school graduates between the ages of 17 and 20 years and students were instructed in dead reckoning, the duties of an officer; theoretical and practical marine engineering; and in handling boats. Some 2,000 young men cycled through the school in the war years.

In April 1946, the Maritime Commission made the newly-decommissioned Artemis-class attack cargo ship USS Selinur (AKA-41) available to the school as Keystone State II, and Seneca was returned.

She was scrapped in 1950, one of the last vessels built for the Revenue Marine Service still afloat at the time.

Seneca, however, is well remembered.

In 1928, the U.S. Coast Guard Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, honoring the service’s war dead in general and those lost on Tampa and Seneca during WWI in particular, was dedicated.

The Coast Guard command holds a Veteran's Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2012. The area where the Coast Guard World War I memorial, which honors the fallen crew members of the Cutter Seneca and Cutter Tampa, was placed is commonly referred to as Coast Guard Hill. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Tamargo

The Coast Guard command holds a Veteran’s Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Nov. 11, 2012. The area where the Coast Guard World War I memorial, which honors the fallen crew members of the Cutter Seneca and Cutter Tampa, was placed is commonly referred to as Coast Guard Hill. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Tamargo

From Arlington:

Architect George Howe and sculptor Gaston Lachaise captured the spirit of the Coast Guard’s legendary steadfastness in the monument’s rock foundation and pyramid design. Above the Coast Guard motto Semper Paratus (meaning “Always Ready”), is a bronze seagull with its wings uplifted. The seagull symbolizes the tireless vigil that the U.S Coast Guard maintains over the nation’s maritime territory.

Further, the centennial medals issued by the U.S. Mint in 2018 honoring the service’s participation in the Great War depicts a lifeboat from the Coast Guard Cutter Seneca heading out in heavy seas toward the torpedoed steamship Wellington.

Coast Guard Cutter Seneca heading out in heavy seas toward the torpedoed steamship Wellington.

Her name was recycled for the “Famous” class 270-foot Medium Endurance Cutter, WMEC-906, was commissioned in 1987 and is homeported in Boston.

Specs:

Tonnage: 1,259 tons (gross)
Length: 204 ft.
Breadth: 34 ft. Breadth
Draft (or Depth): 17.3 ft. (depth)
Engines: Two Scotch boilers, one triple expansion steam engine, one shaft.
Speed: 11.2 knots
Crew: 9/65 designed, 110 wartime
Armament: (1908) 4- 6pdrs
(1917) 4 3″/50 cal guns, depth charges
(1937) disarmed

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

Remember, “No Shave November” is now officially here

In honor of which, I give you Robin Olds, a triple ace with 16 confirmed kills, four in Vietnam and 12 in the European Theater of WWII. Seen here at the controls of his F4 Phantom, 1966.

There is salty, and then there is this guy

Found on Reddit

Indigenous member of U.S. Army Special Forces-organized MIKE force smoking his pipe after a firefight. Vietnam, mid-1960’s. Note the WWII-surplus Marine “duck hunter” camo and post-1944 modified M1 Carbine. I would imagine this fellow was probably pretty hard to kill.

Made up mostly of Montagnard hill people and other ethnic minorities, the Mobile Strike Force Command grew out of the armed hamlet program and CIDG units of the pre-Tet phase of the U.S. involvement in South Vietnam.

Note the SF advisor with the in-country made skull and crossbones MIKE Force patch

A Rimau Z-man’s vest gun

Here we see Australian War Memorial collection item REL/12244, a Colt semi-automatic vest pocket pistol.
Blued frame stamped on the left side with Colt’s Pt.A.MFG.Co HARTFORD CT USA and Patent dates 1896 – 1910 with the rearing horse trademark. On the right side COLT AUTOMATIC CALIBRE .25. Black plastic grips with ‘Colt’ and the horse trademark.

This pistol belonged to Sergeant David Peter Gooley, A.I.F. who joined the Z Special force in June 1944. He was a member of the Operation Rimau party which was captured and executed at Singapore by the Japanese on 7 July 1945

Rimau saw 23 commandos on a “borrowed” Malay junk sink 3 Japanese ships. Of the party, 10 were killed during the op or died in custody while the remaining 13, Gooley included, were executed a month before the cessation of hostilities

Working on the old rusty sword

Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria goes in-depth on cleaning and restoring an antique cavalry officer’s sword blade and scabbard. In this case a 1821 Pattern Light Cavalry Officers “pipe back” with a three-bar hilt that has probably been in storage for generations and is mega filthy with old oil that has long lost its viscosity. The neat thing about the blade is that it is East India Company-marked and Bengal cavalry-issued.

All you need is some Ballistol, brushes, Brasso, green pads, and sweat.

66 years ago today: ‘Spitting death at the Communists in North Korea’

Seaman Leroy Kellam weighed down with belts of 20-millimeter cannon ammunition, hustles up the flight deck of USS Essex (CVA-9) to load a waiting Banshee fighter (examples seen behind him) as the WWII-era fleet carrier cruises somewhere off the Korean coast.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 97271

From the Navy:

“These same shells were spitting death at the Communists in North Korea a short time after this picture was taken. Photograph and caption were released by Commander, Naval Forces, Far East under date of 12 October 1951.”

The McDonnell F2H-2 Banshee was a single-seat carrier-based fighter developed from the older FH Phantom I– the first jet fighter flown from flattops– and was introduced to the fleet in 1948. Though nearly 900 were made for the U.S. and Royal Canadian Navy (they had carriers back then!), these straight wing jets were 100 kts slower than MiG-15s, which made them a bad investment after 1950 and they were all subsequently retired by the early 1960s.

They did carry four sweet 20 mm Colt Mk 16 cannons, though, for which they carried a total of 940 shells of the kind Seaman Kellem is swathed in Frito Bandito-style.

As for the mighty Essex, she was decommissioned for the last time in 1969 after extensive service and sold for scrap in 1975.

If you follow the pew-pew life, but don’t carry a blowout kit, there is something wrong with your love story

One thing often tragically neglected by people who think they are prepared is the ability to respond to a serious causality incident, where a trauma kit and some knowledge of how to use it can save lives– even your own.

If the terrible events of the past several days have proven anything is that you can expect the unexpected to rear its horrible head when and where you least anticipate. In a world of domestic and international terrorism, if you live, work or play near a large city you can quickly find yourself in the middle of a nightmare where overtaxed first responders may not be available or are stretched too thin to control the situation until additional resources appear. On the opposite side of the coin, in a rural or suburban area where a small-scale accident or incident pops off, you could find yourself isolated with the nearest support vital minutes or even hours away. It’s these moments, where conventional civilian emergency medicine protocols fail, that are the most dangerous.

Thus, the need to be ready for trauma.

More in my column at Tac.44.com.

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