In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words
To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Her name was recycled for the “Famous” class 270-foot Medium Endurance Cutter, WMEC-906, was commissioned in 1987 and is homeported in Boston.
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
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You don’t typically think of a 225-foot Juniper-class Coast Guard buoy tender as a national defense (MARDEZ) and homeland security asset, but Coast Guard Cutter Aspen just returned to her homeport last week after sailing nearly 7,000 nautical miles during a 30-day patrol, which included a cocaine interdiction off Mexico as part of Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) South.
Aspen‘s efforts resulted in the interdiction of a suspected smuggling vessel carrying more than 224 pounds of cocaine worth approximately $3.3 million and the apprehension of six suspected smugglers.
The interdiction occurred Oct. 10, after the Aspen deployed two 23-foot interceptor boats which made a three-hour pursuit to intercept a suspected smuggling vessel approximately 400 miles off the coast of Mexico.
Also during the deployment, the Aspen conducted exercises with the Mexican and Canadian navies aimed to help strengthen international partnerships while degrading and disrupting transnational criminal organization networks. Not bad for a ship whose primary mission is aids to navigation.
“This was a very successful deployment and I could not be more proud of the crew,” said Lt. Cmdr. Justin Vanden Heuvel, Aspen‘s commanding officer. “Utilizing a buoy tender as a platform to execute counter-narcotics missions shows the versatility and adaptability of the Coast Guard and the Aspen crew. Day in and day out the crew expertly conducts a wide variety of missions including search and rescue, aids to navigation, fisheries enforcement and in this case, the interdiction of illegal contraband destined for the United States.”
While built for tending navigational aids, 225’s have also proved useful in everything from salvage to sovereignty and fishery patrols, to ice operations (sistership USCGC Maple covered the Northwest Passage in 47 days this summer) and even carrying special operations detachments on training missions in the littoral.
Update on the the 87-foot Marine Protector-class patrol boat, USCGC Brant (WPB-87348) tied up at Coast Guard Station Gulfport.
Last week I hit the water to check out how the coastline changed as a result of Hurricane Nate (I’ve since picked up some great pieces of beached cypress driftwood that likely came from the barrier islands and have several projects in mind for them, but anyway).
On the way back into Gulfport Harbor I saw the 87-foot Marine Protector-class patrol boat, USCGC Brant (WPB-87348) tied up at Coast Guard Station Gulfport. As she is different from our regular two WPBs home-ported here (Razorbill and Pompano), I made sure to grab a few shots of the visiting cutter, normally out of Sector Corpus Christie on the other side of the Gulf.
Then I saw this shot just a few days later of her wheelhouse from the port side…
From the USCG 8th District, Coast Guard Sector New Orleans:
NEW ORLEANS – Members from Gulfport Fire Department and a Coast Guard member extinguished a fire aboard Coast Guard Cutter Brant, which was moored in Gulfport, Mississippi, Wednesday.
At approximately 5 a.m., two Coast Guard members who were aboard the cutter became aware of the fire, located on the port-aft area of the vessel, and took initial actions to put out the fire using an on-board fire extinguisher.
Members from Gulfport Fire Department arrived on scene at 5:05 a.m. and extinguished the fire.
The two Coast Guard members on board the vessel were evaluated by emergency medical services and have been released.
“We are thankful no one was hurt in the fire,” said Cmdr. Zachary Ford, the head of the response department at Coast Guard Sector New Orleans. “Without the quick response and actions taken by the Gulfport Fire Department, this incident could have been much worse.”
The cause of the incident is under investigation.
The fire looked like it happened around officer’s country on the 87-footer and it is good to know that neither life nor limb was lost and she is still afloat. Looks like a trip back to Bollinger in Lockport is in her future, though. She’s just 15 years old and likely has another decade or two on her hull so you would imagine she could be rebuilt.
The big 154-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters, built to replace the 110-foot Island-class patrol boats of the 1980s and 90s, (which in turn replaced the 1950s era 95-foot Cape-class cutters, et.al) are fast becoming a backbone asset for the Coast Guard. Designed for five-day patrols, these 28-knot vessels have a stern boat ramp like the smaller 87-foot WPBs but carry a stabilized 25mm Mk38 and four M2s as well as much more ISR equipment. The first entered service in 2012, just five years ago.
In a hat tip to the fact they are so much more capable, the USCG uses the WPC hull designation, used last by the old “buck and a quarter” 125-foot cutters of the Prohibition-era with these craft, rather than the WPB patrol boat designation of the ships they are replacing.
You can bet these cutters are being looked at for littoral work such as in the Persian Gulf where the Navy has a whole squadron of 170-foot Cyclone-class (PCs) that are showing their age. However, they are already proving themselves domestically.
With over 24 of the planned-on 58 of these vessels in service and hulls 25-44 in building stages, they have been very useful in the Coast Guard’s recent response to Hurricane Irma and Maria, with the latter in particular.
The smallest service has deployed 13 vessels in what they term a “Surface Asset Group” (like the Navy’s surface action group concept, only with cutters), and many of those 13 are FRCs.
With a draft of just over 9-feet, they can get to a lot of places that small tin-can style vessels cannot (FFG-7s draw over 22 while the LCS, depending on type and load, run 13-15). This has enabled them to appear in places where the larger craft would be off-limits.
USCGC Joseph Napier (WPC-1115), homeported in San Juan and commissioned last year, has been poking around small harbors in the USVI dropping off water and diesel fuel. Another FRC of 2016-vintage based in San Juan, USCGC Donald Horsley (WPC-1117), brought 750 liters of bottled water and 1,440 meals to Vieques. Yet another year-old San Juan-based 154-footer, USCGC Winslow W. Griesser (WPC-1116), brought Department of Homeland Security special agents and disaster relief supplies to St. Croix as well as critical prescription medication. Meanwhile, USCGC Joseph Tezanos (WPC-1118), as shown in the first image in this post, is providing escort and security for the 70,000-ton Mercy-class hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), operating out of San Juan.
In another sign of the type’s flexibility, USCCGC Oliver Berry (WPC-1124) last week completed a 7,300-mile self-deployment from her builder’s in New Orleans to Key West where she did shake up work, to Pearl Harbor where she is the first WPC stationed there. Her last leg, from San Diego to Oahu was over 2,600 miles with no pit stops, a trip that showed the craft is capable of extended missions. Further, the class has deployed to the coast of South America in joint Operations Tradewinds exercises for the past two years.
It should be pointed out that typically patrol craft of that size are transported as deck cargo or on a heavy lift vessel for forward deployments. This could prove useful in transfers to the Persian Gulf.
Current contracts for FRCs are running at about $48 million per completed vessel, plus Navy-supplied ordnance, and it looks like a good investment.
On this day in 1917 Lt. Stanley Parker made the first Naval flight recorded at Key West. It was in a Curtiss N-9 seaplane, like the one pictured here in Key West, circa 1917-18 (the planes in the back are Curtiss Model Fs).
The N-9 was the floatplane variant of the classic Curtiss JN-4 Jenny trainer and the Navy ordered very decent 560 of the craft, which remained in service as late as 1927. In all they trained more than 2,500 Navy, Coast Guard and Marine aviators during the World War I period alone and were vital to the development of catapult operations and early torpedo bomber experiments including pilotless drone torpedo concepts.
Key West NAS, of course, is still around, though very battered these days.