A few of the last of their kind, which had been planned to be turned into floating museum ships, will now have another fate.
The first of her extensive class of 23 ships– to include spin-offs for the West German and Royal Australian Navies– Adams was ordered in 1957 and commissioned three years later. Leaving the fleet in 1990, she has been rusting away at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard ever since.
Now, the ship has moved from museum hold to the scrap list.
“Unfortunately, the United States Navy has reversed course and determined the ex USS Adams will not be donated to the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association (“JHNSA”) as a museum in Jacksonville but instead will be scrapped. This decision is counter to the Navy’s recommendation in 2014 that the ex USS Adams be released to the JHNSA for donation. We wish to thank Congressman Rutherford, Senators Rubio, and Nelson, Governor Scott, and all the City officials for their efforts with the Secretary of the Navy to have the ex USS Adams brought to Jacksonville. Although disappointed by this development, the JHNSA will continue to pursue bringing a Navy warship to downtown Jacksonville.”
The group has been collecting items to display including a not-too-far-from-surplus SPA-25G radar panel and Adams’ bell, but they want a ship to put them on. Perhaps a recently retired FFG-7?
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the final two members of the USCG’s WWII-era Balsam-class 180-foot buoy tenders have run out of time. USCGS Iris (WLB-395) and Planetree (WLB-307) were decommissioned after helping with the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1995 and 1999, respectively, and have been sitting in the rusting quiet of the SBRF, Suisun Bay, CA mothballs fleet ever since.
While efforts have been off and on over the past couple decades to save one or both, they have been sold for scrap and are headed to Texas by the same long-distance sea tow. As such, it will end more than 75 years of service tended by these vessels to Uncle.
Finally, in a bright sign, the retired U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bramble (WLB-392) could be repeating her historic 1957 voyage through the Northwest Passage. Another of the “180s,” Bramble has been a museum ship in Port Huron for years but was recently sold to a man who wants to repeat the famous five-month trek of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Storis, SPAR and Bramble, along with the crew of the Canadian icebreaker HMCS Labrador from May to September of 1957.
Things are easier up there these days, and the crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maple, a 225-foot Juniper-class seagoing buoy tender, did the trip in just 47 days last year with no icebreaking involved, so it’s not that hard to fathom.
Either way, you have to love Bramble‘s patch.
A two-man team from the 75th Ranger Regiment bested a crowded field of snipers from around the world last week in the 18th Annual International Sniper Competition– for the second time in as many years.
The other 29 teams in the week-long match ranged from one from the II Jutland Dragoons from Denmark (8th lace) to one from the 890th Paratroopers if the IDF (19th place) and the Dutch Army’s 42nd Limburgse Jagers.
More detail, images and video in my column at Guns.com
The Coast Guard Cutters Hamilton (WMSL-753), Harriet Lane (WMEC-903), Northland (WMEC-904), Dependable (WMEC-626), Spencer (WMEC-905) and Richard Snyder (WPC-1127), as part of the Surface Action Group South are moored up in Mayport, Florida Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 in preparation for Hurricane Florence response efforts. The cutter Hamilton oversaw five Coast Guard cutter in the Surface Action Group in North Carolina during Hurricane Florence response efforts.
For those keeping score, that is a new 413-foot National Security Cutters, three 1980’s vintage 270-foot Bear/Famous-class Medium Endurance Cutters, a 1960s-era 210-foot Reliance-class Medium Endurance Cutter and a new 158-foot Sentinel-class patrol craft (Fast Response Cutter). A pretty decent sized task force.
Hamilton oversaw five cutters in the SAG during the Florence response efforts and conducted post-storm damage assessments of the Cape Fear River, Ports of Wilmington and Morehead City, North Carolina as well as assisted in the reconstitution of Coast Guard Stations Oak Island and Fort Macon.
The above reminded me of the below image of a pack of 45-foot Response Boats huddling in the Intercoastal Waterway during our recent Hurricane Gordon drama on the Gulf Coast.
Here we see the aftermath of a recent U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba shootex with her Mk75 gun making a mess of things.
Essentially the OTO Melara Compact, this rapid-fire 76mm multi-purpose gun (word on the street when talking to a former GMGC who worked on them on FFG7s that they could even do NGFS if you tweaked the Mk92 FCS right) came about in 1963. In August 1978, almost as an afterthought, the U.S. Navy started picking them up for use as the main gun on the Oliver Hazard Perry-class FFGs, a line of tin cans meant to rely principally on their LAMPS helicopter system and Mk 13 one-armed bandit missile launcher.
Eventually, the Navy used them on 51 Perrys, 6 Pegasus PHMs (fun boats), and 25 1980s produced/refitted Coast Guard Cutters as well as a number of domestically-produced FMS ships for allies (Israel’s Sa’ar corvettes, Egypt’s Ambassador MK III class FACs et. al). With the last Perry retired from US service– USS Simpson (FFG-56)– was decommissioned on 29 September 2015, and the PHMs long since retired, the only user of the MK75 in U.S service is the shrinking Hamilton-class 378-foot high endurance cutters [USCGC Sherman (WHEC-720) decommissioned in March and transferred to the Sri Lanka Navy last month, leaving just Mellon (WHEC-717) and Midgett (WHEC-726) in U.S. service] and the 13 270-foot Bear-class medium endurance cutters, of which Escanaba is an example.
On the world scene, the OTO Compact was replaced in production by the Super Rapid after 1985 and, since 2004, as the Leonardo Strales in a stealth cupola as mounted on new ships such as the Norwegian frigate HNoMS Fridtjof Nansen.
As noted by the Navy: The U.S. Navy is no longer acquiring Mark 75 guns but has logistics support contracts with BAE systems and OTO Melara. As the new Offshore Patrol (Heritage-class) cutters are equipped with the same 220 rpm Bofors 57 mm gun as mounted on the USN’s Littoral combat ships and the USCG’s Legend class cutters, the MK75 is likely to be retired in US service sometime in the 2030s when the final 270s are put to pasture after 50 years of service.
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 of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018: Sideroxylon lanuginosum, everlasting
Here we see the Mesquite-class buoy tender USCGC Ironwood (WAGL/WLB-297) in the summer of 1996 in Alaskan waters offloading equipment for maintenance on Eldred Rock Lighthouse. A product of WWII, she would over a half-century in U.S. maritime service and is, remarkably, still ticking in the Pacific Northwest.
In 1916 the Revenue Cutter Service and Lifesaving Service were merged to form the Coast Guard, to which the Bureau of Lighthouses was added on 1 July 1939 and as such all U.S. lighthouses, tenders, and lightships became USCG installations and ships. The thing is, the lighthouse and buoy tender fleet was a hodgepodge of antiquated single-use vessels to which the Bureau had been looking to replace with a new series of 177-foot lighthouse tenders modeled after the USLHT Juniper, the last vessel designed by the Bureau.
Taking these plans, the Coast Guard made some changes and produced a 180-foot/950-ton single-screw steel-hulled ship that incorporated some new features that the USLHS never needed (an ice-strengthened bow, search and rescue equipment and mission, allowance for armament, et.al). The first of these, USCGC Cactus (WAGL-270) was appropriated for $782,381 on 20 Jan 1941 and laid down at Marine Iron & Shipbuilding Corporation, Duluth, MN on 31 March.
Almost all of these hardy ships were built either at Marine or at Zenith Dredge Company very rapidly in three subclasses: the “A” or “Cactus” class, “B” or “Mesquite” class, and “C” or “Iris” class (with all named for trees and bushes). All ships of the three subclasses have the same general characteristics, but with slight differences, (e.g. the “A/Cactus” class tenders may be differentiated from the other two classes of 180-foot tenders by their unique “A” frame main boom support forward and their large 30,000 gal fuel tanks that allowed an economical 17,000nm cruising range on their gentle diesel suite.) The last to come off the ways was USCGC Woodbrush (WAGL-407) which commissioned 22 Sept. 1944. The building process entailed an average of 192,018 hours of labor per vessel.
Unlike the other 38 of the class that was built by contractors, the hero of our story, USCGC Ironwood, was laid down at the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland and commissioned 275 days later on 4 August 1943 for a cost of $1,388,227 (note the difference from Cactus, above). She was the only vessel in active U.S. service named for the Sideroxylon lanuginosum, aka gum bully or ironwood, a small tree native to the Sun Belt and Midwest. According to the USCG’s office, in service, her crew nicknamed her “Ironbush” and “Ironweed” for her small size.
Ironwood sailed for the War in the Pacific, arriving in Noumea, New Caledonia via Bora Bora and Pago Pago, in March 1944.
She spent the next nine months in a busy but routine operation of keeping the 3rd Fleet’s vast anchorages up to snuff. This meant tending anti-torpedo nets and mooring buoys, establishing the new-fangled LORAN network, carrying cargo, mail, and servicemembers from island to island, and towing barges as needed– all while looking out for the possibility of Japanese mines, periscopes, and floatplanes on the horizon. She even came to the assistance of the stranded Liberty Ship SS John Lind.
Coast Guard Historian’s Office:
On 26 March1944 Ironwood left Noumea to assist SS John Lind grounded on a reef at 22 28 S, 166 36 E. Ironwood’s attempts to pull the vessel off being unsuccessful, she removed 65 Navy and Marine Corps personnel from the vessel on the 28th and transported them to Noumea on the next day. She remained until 2 April 1944 when she proceeded with Navy tugs USS Sioux and YT-463 to remove the reefed ship. In tandem with the tugs they successfully re-floated John Lind on 6 April.
In January 1945, she sailed for Guadalcanal’s Cape Esperance in the Solomons. There, she moved assisted in the recovery of a Japanese midget submarine. The 78-foot, 47-ton, two-man Type A Ko-hyoteki boat, was found in 30 feet of water and the cutter spent two weeks in the recovery operation as detailed by Combined Fleets:
4 January 1945:
US Coast Guard cutter IRONWOOD (W-297) begins operations to raise an unidentified Japanese two-man midget submarine from about 30 feet of water off Cape Esperance. Divers, working from a small boat, use a water pressure hose and crowbars to clear a space under the bow and stern of the submarine. By 9 Jan, a 1.5” chain sling is rigged around the bow of the midget submarine.
19 January 1945:
After retiring to Gavutu for ten days, IRONWOOD again anchors off Cape Esperance. By now, divers have completed rigging the submarine for lifting, connecting the chain around its bow and stern with a chain bridal.
20 January 1945 :
IRONWOOD is positioned alongside the sunken midget submarine. She lowers the main hoist over the starboard side and hooks it to the chain bridal. The cutter then raises the midget submarine to the surface and secures it alongside. IRONWOOD then tows it to Hutchinson’s Creek, Florida Island, Solomons. The next day, IRONWOOD moves to a new anchorage where the midget submarine is transferred to an unidentified USN crane barge.
The identity of this 1945 salvaged midget submarine is unknown but is possibly HA-22 or HA-37. I can’t find out what happened to the craft but it was likely scrapped at some point. It is not one of the five Type A midgets preserved and on display currently (HA-8: Groton, Connecticut; HA-18: JMSDF Etajima Naval Base, Etajima, Japan; HA-19: Nimitz Museum, Fredericksburg, Texas; and HA-14/HA-21 at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra).
Ironwood went on to spend a solid year, from August 1945 to July 1946, in the Philippines reestablishing buoys and lighthouses and looking for pockets of Japanese holdouts.
Following her extended wartime service, she was stationed briefly in Monterey, California then returned to the South Pacific soon enough.
Between 19 November 1951 and 2 May 1954, Ironwood made four deployments to support Korean War operations, supplying and supporting radio stations in the region. As such, she was one of just 24 Coast Guard vessels that qualified for the Korean Service Medal.
In 1963, by that time stationed in Honolulu, she took some of the first scientists to return to the Marshall Islands after U.S. nuclear testing. As related by Capt. LeRoy Reinburg, Jr., U.S. Coast Guard-Retired, her skipper at the time, Ironwood spent almost two weeks inspecting radioactive and poorly charted Rongelap Atoll.
“In the course of our travels, we discovered nine uncharted islands and one large reef that bared at low tide. Dr. Held and I decided to assign names to these geographic features. The reef, appropriately, was named ‘Ironwood Reef,’” he noted.
During the mid-1960s, these boats were designated WLBs (buoy tenders) and saw all fixed armament landed in 1966, leaving them only their small arms lockers. If deployed for law enforcement missions or to war zones, 180s would be equipped with up to four Browning M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns or a similar number of M60 7.62mm GPMGs. Lacking its naval piece, the 3-inch Gun Tub served as a lookout perch and occasional storage area for small items including crew bicycles when traveling between ports. Lockers for life jackets and exposure survival suits were later located on this deck, which is encircled by a tubular steel railing.
During the Vietnam conflict, four USCG 180s were dispatched to Southeast Asia to perform aids-to-navigation support and assist with harbor defense and maintenance– Basswood (WLB-388), Blackhaw (WLB-390) Planetree (WLB-307, and, of course, Ironwood, the latter of which deployed there in July 1967.
Vietnamese lighthouse service personnel were assigned to temporary duty on board as they worked to reactivate and automate Vietnamese lighthouses and establish new U.S.-sponsored lights. While deploying work crews, machine gun teams would have to stand by in case they came under fire from passing sampans or the shore as VC constantly shot out navigational lights and sank buoys. Her crew also provided services to the local populace such as MEDCAPS.
Sometime around this period she even clocked in on NASA support duties, helping with recovering boilerplate space capsules in the rush to the moon.
She conducted a number of rescues over the years:
*8 January 1959 Ironwood assisted thegrounded sampan Bellatrix at Molokai Beach, HI.
*6 January 1962 Ironwood rescued the crew of FV Hiroshima Maru aground at 21 17 N, 157 51 W.
*23-25 May 1963 the cutter escorted the disabled MV Dianna to Honolulu, HI.
*18 February 1969 Ironwood towed the disabled FV Widgeon from Augustine Island to Homer, AK.
*April 1969 escorted the distressed tanker Yukon, which was holed by a submerged object in Cook Inlet.
*29 April 1969 the crew fought a fire on the Shell Oil drilling platform in Cook Inlet.
*26 December 1969 she hoisted the disabled FV Arctic Fox on board at MacArthur Cove and carried her to Seward, AK
Ironwood was later given a one-year major renovation (MAJREN) in 1974, envisioned at the time to keep her in service for another 15 years. This involved removing her Cooper-Bessemer inline 8-cylinder engines and rebuilding them, new electrical wiring, piping, and sewage handling systems. She picked up a bow thruster, all-new crew spaces, new cranes, ship heaters, reefers, the works.
After her refit, she was put to work on the Alaska beat, stationed at Kodiak, in all spending the last 26 years of her Coast Guard career in Alaskan waters. During this time she escorted Soviet fishing trawlers out of U.S. waters, participated in Naval exercises, towed disabled fishing vessels to port, medevac’d injured mariners, searched for missing planes– you know, typical Coast Guard stuff.
Between 1979 and 1995, she earned six Coast Guard “E” ribbons. In 1981, she received the Coast Guard Unit Commendation. In both 1989 and 1999, she picked up Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendations for her duty in the frozen and dangerous Bering Sea, in particular assisting with the cleanup operations in Prince William Sound after the grounding of the Exxon Valdez.
At the time of her decommissioning, Ironwood was the second-oldest cutter in USCG service (only surpassed at the time by the medium endurance cutter Storis) and was the only remaining US vessel in service awarded the Korean Service Medal. Then, of course, there was her WWII service, nuke sniffing, assistance to the Space program and her Vietnam tour. She served 14 Commandants of the Coast Guard, 34 commanding officers and more than 1,200 crew members in the course of her half-million miles traveled.
But her story doesn’t end there. The old girl, after 57 years of active duty, she was to be transferred to Nigeria but instead, in 2002, was presented to the Tongue Point Seamanship Academy in Oregon which uses her as a floating classroom to train new mariners in an 18-month program to find seagoing careers.
In 2014, the center threw a 70th anniversary for Ironwood.
As for her sisterships, many have proven to be very long in the tooth:
*Balsam (WLB-62) was decommissioned 1975 and has been used as an Alaskan crab boat ever since. She is currently the F/V Baranof.
*Cactus (WLB-270) was seized in Kings County Washington as a derelict vessel in 2013 for dismantling.
*Cowslip (WLB-277), Firebush (WLB-393) and Sassafras (WLB-401) were transferred to Nigerian Navy 2002-2003 as NNS Nwamba, NNS Olepu and Obula respectively. All remain in service. Sedge (WLB-402) was also transferred for parts.
*Woodbine (WLB-289) was donated to be a training ship in Cleveland in 1972 and went on to be a fish processing boat in Alaska before being sold for scrap in 2012.
*Gentian (WLB-290) was transferred to Colombia as ARC San Andrés (PO-45) and is still active.
*Laurel (WLB-291) was sold at a GSA auction in 1999, ultimate fate unknown.
*Clover (WLB-292) and Evergreen (WLB-295) were decommissioned 1990 and sunk by the Navy as a targets.
*Sorrel (WLB-296) was decommissioned in 1996 and is used as SS Reliance operated by Sea Scout Ship #13 of Stockton, California, showing up in an episode of Dexter.
*Conifer (WLB-301) and Papaw (WLB-308) were decommissioned 2000 and 1999 respectively and was used for a number of years as F/V Hope and F/V Mersea, part of the disaster relief fleet of Friend Ships, but have since been removed from that organization.
*Madrona (WLB-302) transferred to El Salvador who used her as General Manuel José Arce and subsequently sunk her as a reef.
*Tupelo (WAGL/WLB-303) was decommissioned in 1975 and has spent the past 30 years as a Bering Sea fishing boat, FV Courageous.
*Mesquite (WLB-305) ran aground December 4, 1989 on a reef off the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior while in Coast Guard service and was scuttled for underwater diving preserve.
*Buttonwood (WLB-306) was decommissioned 2001 and transferred to the Dominican Republic’s Navy as Almirante Didiez Burgos, still active. USCGC Citrus (WMEC-300), also endures there as Almirante Juan Alejandro Acosta (C-456/P301)
*Sweetgum (WLB-309) was transferred in 2002 to Panama as SMN Independencia (P401).
*Basswood (WLB-388), Blackhaw (WLB-390) and Mallow (WLB-396) were scrapped in 2000.
*Bittersweet (WLB-389) was decommissioned and transferred to Estonian Border Guard, 5 September 1997 who used her until 2014– she is retained as a museum ship.
*Blackthorn (WLB-391) sank in 1980 in a collision near the Tampa Bay Sunshine Skyway Bridge, resulting in 23 crewmember fatalities. Raised, she was resunk as a reef.
*Bramble (WLB-392) was decommissioned 2003, and has been retained with a mixed degree of success as a museum ship in the Great Lakes.
*Hornbeam (WLB-394) was decommissioned 1999, and lost near Panama as M/V Rum Cay Grace in 2013.
*Iris (WLB-395) and Planetree (WLB-307) were decommissioned after helping with the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1995 and 1999, repectviely, and sit in rusting quiet in the SBRF, Suisun Bay, CA mothballs fleet.
*Mariposa (WLB-397) was decommissioned in 2000 but has been retained by the Navy as a hulk until 2009 and has been spotted in the Seattle area since then.
*Redbud (WLB-398) was transferred to the Philippines as Kalinga (AG-89) in 1972.
*Sagebrush (WLB-399) was scuttled off St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia on 28 April 1988.
*Salvia (WLB-400) was decommissioned 1991 and used as a salvage operations training vessel for U.S. Navy at Little Creek.
*Spar (WLB-403) was decommed 1997 and sunk as a reef in 2004.
*Sundew (WLB-404) was decommissioned 2004, used as a museum for a while, then sold to private interests in 2010.
*Acacia (WLB-406), the last 180 in Coast Guard service, was decommissioned 2006 after 63 years of service and is now a museum in Manistee, Michigan.
*Woodrush (WLB-407) and Sweetbrier (WLB-405) were transferred to Ghana in 2001 where she still serves as GNS Anzone (P30) and GNS Bonsu (P31) respectively, which means “shark” and “whale” in the native lingo.
For interior pics, the LOC has a great series of images from the Planetree, a Mesquite subclass sister.
Displacement: 935 fl (1944); 1,026 fl (1966); 700 light (1966)
Length: 180-feet oa
Beam: 37 feet mb
Draft: 12 ft. max (1944); 14′ 7″ (1966)
Propulsion: 1 electric motor connected to 2 Westinghouse generators driven by 2 Cooper-Bessemer-type GND-8, 4-cycle diesels; single screw
Top speed: 13.0 kts sustained (1945); 11.9 kts sustained (1966). 28,000 gals diesel
Economic speed: 8.3 kts (1945); 8.5 kts (1966)
6 Officers, 74 men (1944);
5 Officers, 2 warrants, 41 men (1966)
Radar: Bk (1943); SLa-1 (1945), SPS-64(V) 1979
Sonar: WEA-2 (1945-66)
1-3″/50 (single), 4-20mm/80 (single), 2 depth charge tracks, 2 Mousetraps, 4 Y-guns
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Distributed lethality & Naval Strategy 2025: More aircraft, more missiles, more platforms, less money
A lot of people worry that there could be a great power naval war sometime in the next generation. As such, the “fleet you have,” which last fought a live-fire fleet engagement with a near-peer opponent in 1944, may not be the “fleet you want” but some easy fixes could help.
Marine Col. Thomas X. Hammes (Ret), now a PhD and heavy hitter on the military of the future, has an interesting take over at Task & Purpose on how to bring a lot of missiles and airframes to the naval engagement of the near-future: pick up gently used container ships for peanuts and convert them into haulers for combat-capable UAV’s and containerized missile systems. It’s a lot cheaper than risking a traditional CVBG or repackaging an LHD to use F-35s. Such a vessel could be fielded with a much smaller crew than a big-deck CVN.
As pointed out by Hammes: “a carrier and air wing alone cost $20 billion and 5,000 Americans live aboard. This is an enormous investment of eggs is a possibly fragile basket,” and that “Suggesting the use of amphibious big decks is not a different way – it’s just a very similar but much less capable basket.”
Thinking differently, we could envision any container ship – from inter-coastal to ocean-going as a potential aircraft carrier. It could carry from a couple dozen to thousands of cruise missiles as well as hundreds of autonomous drones ranging from short to long range and both reusable and expendable. And, of course, the containers could also be land based — with nearly unlimited basing and hide sites.
Also for your consideration is LCDR Daniel Wiltshire, USCG, and his take in the latest Proceedings that the Navy should man up and put anti-ship missiles on the new Offshore Patrol Cutters and National Security Cutters, some 35~ frigate-sized warships without frigate-equivalent weapons. A large part of his case is, since the Coast Guard often gets sent into harm’s way with the Navy, it should be able to keep its promise of being war-like.
Some will argue that cutters are not optimized for high-intensity combat. While it is true that the NSC and OPC were not designed for high-intensity combat, the distinction between high and low intensity becomes meaningless during a great power conflict. It is a distinction predicated on the luxury of being able to choose when, where, and with whom to fight and which ships are deployed to do the fighting. Great power conflict at sea affords no such luxury and typically entails a whole-of-fleet approach.
So China just launched their first domestically-produced icebreaker, joining a c.1994 Russian-built unit, the 21,000-ton Xue Long (Snow Dragon) previously purchased to double the size of their fleet operating on their new “Polar Silk Road.”
Named Xue Long 2 (way to branch out) the new 14,000-ton ship is larger than our only true polar icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star, not to mention being about 50-years newer.
Meanwhile, Canada last month picked up a trio of new (to them) medium icebreakers from commercial trade for a song from a company in Sweden. Commissioned into the Canadian Coast Guard, they will revitalize that force until new purpose-built ships can be made.
Good thing the USCG isn’t having a problem getting new, modern breakers through Congress.
Bonus: Why icebreaking matters, from Matt Hein, a Surface Warfare Officer currently studying for his Masters in Security Studies at Georgetown University.