Category Archives: warship wednesday

Where are the Carriers, Dec 6, 1941 edition

A common refrain for the past half-century, when it comes to American diplomacy, is “Where are the carriers?”

The day before they were the most capital ship in the Navy, here is the rundown, via the NHHC and DANFS:

On 6 December 1941, the three Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers were USS Enterprise (CV-6), USS Lexington (CV-2), and USS Saratoga (CV-3). By sheer luck, while most of the Pacific fleet’s battleships and cruisers and about half of its destroyers and submarines were at Pearl on 7 December, there were no flattops. 

USS Enterprise (CV-6) Operating in the Pacific, circa late June 1941. She is turning into the wind to recover aircraft. Note her natural wood flight deck stain and dark Measure One camouflage paint scheme. The flight deck was stained blue in July 1941, during camouflage experiments that gave her a unique deck stripe pattern. 80-G-K-14254

Enterprise: On 28 November 1941, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel sent TF-8, consisting of Enterprise, the heavy cruisers Northampton(CA-26), Chester (CA-27), and Salt Lake City (CA-24) and nine destroyers under Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., to ferry 12 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats of Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 211 to Wake Island. Upon completion of the mission on 4 December, TF-8 set a course to return to Pearl Harbor. Dawn on 7 December 1941 found TF-8 about 215 miles west of Oahu.

USS Lexington (CV-2) leaving San Diego, California, 14 October 1941. Planes parked on her flight deck include F2A-1 fighters (parked forward), SBD scout-bombers (amidships), and TBD-1 torpedo planes (aft). Note the false bow wave painted on her hull, forward, and badly chalked condition of the hull’s camouflage paint. 80-G-416362

Lexington: On 5 December 1941, TF-12, formed around Lexington, under the command of Rear Admiral John H. Newton, sailed from Pearl to ferry 18 Vought SB2U-3 Vindicators of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 231 to Midway Island. Dawn on 7 December 1941 found Lexington, heavy cruisers Chicago (CA-29), Portland (CA-33), and Astoria (CA-34), and five destroyers about 500 miles southeast of Midway. The outbreak of hostilities resulted in the cancellation of the mission and VMSB-231 was retained on board [they would ultimately fly to Midway from Hickam Field on 21 December].

USS Saratoga (CV-3) flight deck scene, circa fall of 1941. Grumman F4F-3 “Wildcats” of VF-3 “Felix the Cat” are in the foreground (one wearing the two-toned gray scheme approved in October 1941); Douglas SBD-3 “Dauntless” and Douglas TBD-1 “Devastator” aircraft are parked beyond. NH 92500

Saratoga: The Saratoga, having recently completed an overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, reached NAS San Diego [North Island] late in the forenoon watch on 7 December. She was to embark her air group, as well as Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 221 and a cargo of miscellaneous airplanes to ferry to Pearl Harbor.

Meanwhile, in the Atlantic…

Yorktown (CV-5), Ranger (CV-4), and Wasp (CV-7), along with the aircraft escort vessel Long Island (AVG-1), were in the Atlantic Fleet; Hornet (CV-8), commissioned in late October 1941, had yet to carry out her shakedown. Yorktown would be the first Atlantic Fleet carrier to be transferred to the Pacific, sailing on 16 December 1941.

Mirage Before the Storm, 80 Years Ago Today

The new C-in-C of the Eastern Fleet, Adm. Sir Thomas Spencer Vaughan “Tom” Phillips GBE, KCB, DSO, (short guy, hands on hips) watches his flagship, the brand new (and still not fully complete) King George V-class HMS Prince of Wales, fresh from catching the Bismarck, berth at Singapore on 4 December 1941. The second officer on the Admiral’s right (holding briefcase by his side) is Chief of Staff Rear Admiral A F E Palliser.

Prince of Wales, being the flagship of Force Z, was given the best berth alongside the West Wall of the Naval Base, opposite the main office buildings. Meanwhile, her companion, the Renown-class battlecruiser HMS Repulse was left moored out in the stream like some sort of ugly cousin.

It was a happy time, as the “Gibraltar of the Pacific” seemed even more impenetrable with the arrival of the two battlewagons. Surely the Japanese would take notice and steer clear, looking for easier targets. 

Just six days later, both of the proud capital ships would be on the bottom with a loss of 840 of HMs officers and men – including Tom Phillips and flagship captain John Leach. The spell was broken. 

Palliser, meanwhile, would survive, go on to command the British part of the ill-fated ABDACOM, then ride a desk at Trincomalee and New Delhi before ending the war as Fourth Sea Lord– Chief of Supplies and Transport.

Remembering the Ark

As the Type 45 (Daring-class) air-defense destroyer HMS Dragon (D35)— recently made a Bond film veteran– passed through the Mediterranean this week, she marked a somber 80th anniversary, that of the loss of the legendary WWII carrier HMS Ark Royal (91), with a service over her wreck.

“The destroyer paused her patrol to remember all who served in the mighty Ark – a constant thorn in Hitler’s side until a U-boat finally sank her 30 miles east of Gibraltar in late 1941. A wreath was cast into the waters in memory of the sole man lost in the sinking, AB Edward Mitchell,” noted the Royal Navy.

Sunk by a lucky torpedo from U-81 (Oblt.z.S. Friedrich Guggenberger), 14 November 1941, the 27,000-ton flattop was less than three years old but was a steady veteran of the Norway campaign (where the British lost the carrier HMS Glorious with heavy loss of life just after sistership HMS Courageous had been sent to the bottom by a U-boat in 1939) as well as heavy engagements in the Med against the Italians (Spartivento) and in the Malta Convoy run.

Ark’s loss would put the Royal Navy down to just two pre-war carriers– HMS Furious (47) and HMS Eagle, the latter of which would be sunk by U-73 nine months later. Luckily, the Brits had four brand-new 23,000-ton Illustrious-class carriers (HM Ships Illustrious, Formidable, Victorious, and Indomitable) which had just joined the fleet, bringing the numbers up.

As for U-81, the Type VIIC U-boat survived a punishing depth charge attack from Ark’s escorting destroyers with 130 depth charges counted by the crew and would be sent to the bottom of Pola harbor in 1944 by 15th Air Force B-17s on the eve of the sub’s 18 war patrol.

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021: The Great White Fleet’s Beautiful Accidental Groupie

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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. 1, 2021: The Great White Fleet’s Beautiful Accidental Groupie

Australian National Maritime Museum’s Samuel J. Hood Studio collection. Object no. 00034742

Here we see the Chilean Naval corbeta (corvette) General Baquedano departing Sydney, Australia in late July 1931. A throwback to another era, this steel-hulled single-screw steamer would have a career that spanned over a half-century.

The Chilean Navy in the 1890s found themselves in need of a new buque escuela, or school ship. The role up until then had been shared by the old 2,100-ton corvette Abtao and the battered 600-ton gunboat Pilcomayo, the first the British-built steamer CSS Texas which had never been delivered to the Confederacy and the second built for Peru in Blackwall then captured as a prize after a lopsided naval battle with the Chileans in 1879. Abato, by far, was in the better material condition but was still so worn that an 1884 tender for her sale was not awarded because the offers were so low, forcing the Chileans to keep her in service.

The new training corvette was be ordered in early 1897 as Yard # 675 from the Tyne shipbuilder of Armstrong, Whitworth & Co, Elswick where the first-class armored cruiser O’Higgins was also being built for the government of Chile at the time.

As Baquedano’s career would take her into Antarctic waters occasionally, her hull was made of steel, sheathed in copper, and lined with wood 3.5-inches thick up to three feet above the waterline. Some 240-feet overall, she displaced 2,300-tons. Her armament was Armstrong-made, consisting of four modern breechloading 4.7-inch QFs, assorted 12- and 6-pounders, two water-cooled Maxim machine guns, and a single above-deck torpedo tube for 18-inch Whitehead models, making her a decent little gunboat.

Baquedano with her original black hull as commissioned, is likely seen during speed trials. Via Tyne & Wear Museums

Rigged as a barque, she used Belleville boilers and had a capacity of 300 tons of coal and open stokeholds. Her twin six-crank T3cyl (30, 50 & 81.5 x 48ins) engines were constructed by R & W Hawthorn Leslie, Newcastle, and turned a single centerline screw, with a designed speed of 12 knots. From the below May 1900 edition of The Engineers Gazette, which has much more detail on her powerplant, the Chilean warship would clock 13.75 knots across six hours on her full power builder’s speed trials. Not bad for a barque.

The new corvette was named for the commander of the Chilean forces during the 1879-84 War of the Pacific, Manuel Jesús Baquedano González. Having learned his trade in the circa 1838 War of the Confederacy, the old general spent almost 50 years in uniform and is credited with reorganizing the Chilean military and promoting the formation of both the War Academy and the General Staff, institutions that survive today.

Baquedano and his warhorse Diamante (c. 1881), and in full uniform (c. 1881).

The strongman, who repeatedly turned down roles as Presidente, died in 1897 at age 74.

Career

General Baquedano (Chilean training ship, 1898) burning the dirtiest coal known to man, apparently. NH 49892

Delivered to the Government of Chile in the presence of the country’s charge d’affaires, Aurelio Bascuñán, on 22 August 1899, the new vessel arrived “home” in March 1900 under the command of Captain Ricardo Beaugency.

She left on her first Midshipman and Grumete (cabin boy) cruise just five weeks later, bound for points West Pac via Easter Island, Vancouver, San Francisco, and Honolulu, cycling the Pacific Rim to make calls at Yokohama, Nagasaki, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Batavia, and Sydney, returning to Valparaíso 10 months later in February 1901.

Baquedano would continue such long-reaching annual cruises into 1935– other than gaps from 1911 to 1917 due to economic reasons and the Great War and another during a 1922-26 refit– visiting over 100 ports on six continents.

Her 1903-1905 circumnavigation, for reference.

Baquedano in Chinese waters, 1904. She notably observed several aspects of the Russo-Japanese war firsthand. Repositorio Digital del Archivo y Biblioteca Histórica de la Armada

On her 1906-07 cruise, a delegation was received by Queen Alexandra at Portsmouth, hosted King of Spain Alfonso XIII and his wife Queen Victoria while calling at San Sebastián, circled the Med, and attended the Jamestown Exposition in Portsmouth.

“General Bocordona” one of a set of commemorative Jamestown Exposition souvenir postcards.

Notably, the armada of modern American battleships assembled in Hampton Roads for the exposition became Teddy Roosevelt’s famed Great White Fleet under RADM Robley Dunglison Evans, which toured the globe as evidence of the young nation’s international military might.

In 1908, Baquedano had the curious instance of running into the GWF “on the road” at least two more times, some 8,000 miles apart.

In mid-February, she embarked Chilean President Pedro Montt to review the visiting American warships in Valparaiso, with her Mids aloft and all her glad rags flying.

General Baquedano (Chilean Training Ship, 1899) manning her yards while moored at Valparaiso, Chile, in mid-February 1908, when the U.S. Great White Fleet steamed past the city. General Baquedano is dressed in flags and has Chilean President Pedro Montt embarked. The Chilean destroyer Capitan Thompson is astern. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 45327

General Baquedano (Chilean Training Ship, 1899) at Valparaiso, Chile, with Chilean President Pedro Montt on board, during the U.S. in mid-February 1908, when the U.S. Great White Fleet steamed past the city. General Baquedano is dressed in flags and her crew is manning her yards in honor of the occasion. Collection of Chief Quartermaster John Harold. NH 101484

Then, on 11 September 1908 at the small Western Australian port of Albany, she stood near the British Edgar-class cruiser HMS Gibraltar and the Princess Royal Fortress as USS Connecticut (Battleship No. 18), flagship of GWF commander RADM Charles S. Sperry, along with 14 other Yankee battleships dropped anchor at the outer anchorage of King George Sound. While Gibraltar was there on station, Baquedano under Captain Agustín Fontaine Calvo, had only arrived two days before to take on coal at the end of a six-month Pacific cruise.

“Great White Fleet” World Cruise. Six Atlantic Fleet battleships at Albany, Western Australia for coaling, circa mid-September 1908. The three ships with black hulls (one of which is directly alongside a battleship) are probably colliers. The white-hulled ship at the right is USS Glacier (Storeship, 1898-1922). Also present is a grey British cruiser, probably HMS Gibraltar. Baquedano is likely off-camera to the right with the other half of the GWF or had just left. Collection of Lieutenant Commander Richard Wainwright, 1928. NH 41678

After dutifully exchanging salutes and sending around the appropriate visiting teams for a couple of days, Baquedano would shove off for Talcahuano, arriving back in Chile on Christmas Eve 1908. Meanwhile, the GWF was bound for the East across the Indian Ocean, arriving at Suez, Egypt at roughly the same time. Of note, Teddy’s fleet traveled some 14,556 nautical miles around the world, making the fact that Baquedano met them both at the beginning and rough halfway point, some six months apart, remarkably interesting.

War!

Baquedano listed as a well-armed “surveying ship” in the 1914 Jane’s

During the Great War, the pro-German Chilean government showed a bit of favoritism to Von Spee’s German Pacific Squadron, allowing his ships to take on coal, use their wireless in territorial waters, and often overstay their 24-hour limits without being interned alongside a raft of German merchant vessels who were allowed to sit out the conflict at Valparaiso.

Valparaiso, Chile. November 1914. The German Navy Pacific Squadron at anchor in the harbor. Via Deutsche Reichsarchiv and AWM.

To be sure, though, the country also allowed the British and their allies to do much the same in the interest of neutrality.

Valparaiso, Chile, 26-27 December 1914. “German merchant ships interned in the Chilean port, as seen from the foredeck of HMAS Australia. This German colony was a base for naval staff and the supply of coal to German vessels. After searching in vain for enemy vessels on its way across the Pacific, the Australian flagship was taking the long route to Jamaica around South America, due to the closure of the Panama Canal to heavy traffic.” AWM EN0076

The Battle of Coronel was fought just off Chile’s coast and, after Von Spee was sent to the bottom of the South Atlantic in the Battle of the Falklands, the sole survivor of his squadron, the exhausted German cruiser SMS Dresden, took refuge in Chilean waters at Más a Tierra– where it was destroyed on 14 March 1915 as a Chilean gunboat stood by and protested via signal flags. 

The Chileans interned 315 survivors of Dresden’s crew, although some to include future Abwehr spymaster Wilhelm Canaris released themselves on their own recognizance and made it back to Germany during the conflict.

Corbeta general Baquedano, de la Armada de Chile, circa 1915. Via Chile al día. Tomo I.

Banquedano’s role in the war was limited, serving as a guardship for the interned German merchantmen and her sidelined crew aiding with a bit of muscle ashore as needed.

Late in the war, after the U.S. entered the conflict and, with traditional enemies Bolivia and Peru trying to curry favor with Washington, Chile seized the inactive German-owned nitrate plants in the country and began shipping caliche from the Atacama Desert to the allies.

In 1918, with the war confined at that point to Europe and the Middle East, Baquedano, under the command of Capitán de fragata Manuel Montalva Barrientos set off on her first training cruise since 1910. After visiting Honolulu, Yokohama, Kobe, Itsukushima, Moji, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Batavia, Melbourne, and Wellington, she returned to the port of Valparaíso after the Armistice. Importantly, she inspected Easter Island at least twice during this cruise, an island made important again during the war as the seized French trading schooner Lutece, captured at Mopelia Island by five shipwrecked crew members of the reefed German commerce raider Seeadler, had arrived there in October 1917 and been interned by the local Chilean authorities.

Interwar

Between December 1922 and March 1926, with her unique engines giving up the ghost, Baquedano was overhauled and received a new engineering suite as part of an extensive rebuild. Her armament was also modified, landing her elderly torpedo tube and some of her smaller mounts. 

Corbeta Baquedano Buque-escuela fondeado en el puerto de Antofagasta.

Her 10-month 1927 midshipman cruise spanned the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

Her 1928-29 cruise went even further, visiting throughout the Med and Baltic Seas before calling at Philadelphia and New York on the way back home.

Training ship, corvette General Baquedano crossing the Kiel canal, Germany, during her 1928-1929 instructional voyage. Note she now has an enclosed deckhouse. In this cruise, the frigate captain Julio Pinto Allard commanded the vessel. Repositorio Digital del Archivo y Biblioteca Histórica de la Armada

Her 1929-30 cruise swapped back to the Pacific, traveling as far up the coast as San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver.

Chilean training ship [at C.P.R. pier] [General Baquedano], 1929. Vancouver City Archives. AM1535-: CVA 99-2388

Taking on coal, 1929. Photo by Walter Frost. Vancouver City Archives. AM1506-S3-2-: CVA 447-2233.1

Her 1931 West Pac cruise was extensively cataloged when she called at Sydney’s East Circular Quay on 16 July 1931 and spent two weeks in the city. The visit apparently attracted a lot of local interest, and the daily activities of the Chileans were reported in the Sydney Morning Herald. This included playing a soccer match against members of the cruiser HMAS Canberra, presenting a wreath at the Martin Place Cenotaph— which had just been completed in 1926– and the crew displaying their rigging skills while aloft and open to receive visitors from the curious public.

Procession of Chilean sailors alongside their ship Corbeta general Baquedano, at East Circular Quay, 24 July 1931. The wreath is likely the one presented at the Martin Place cenotaph. Australian National Maritime Museum’s Samuel J. Hood Studio collection. Object no. 00034748

Working with a hardhat diver over the side and a manual compressor. Australian National Maritime Museum’s Samuel J. Hood Studio collection. Object no. 00034747

Cadets aloft showing off their skills. Australian National Maritime Museum’s Samuel J. Hood Studio collection. Object no. 00034750.

The epic young bluejacket pose. Australian National Maritime Museum’s Samuel J. Hood Studio collection. Object no. 00035047

Visitors of the best type when dockside in Sydney. Australian National Maritime Museum’s Samuel J. Hood Studio collection. Object no. 00034744

The time in Australia was among her last great overseas cruises, sticking closer to home for a few years save for trips to Easter Island. Even this ended after 1935 when it was decided the almost 40-year-old sailing ship would be of better use as a pierside trainer for the Arturo Prat Naval School and the Alejandro Navarrete Cisterna School of Grumetes. Her sailing was limited to day runs and coastal trips, almost always under power rather than sail.

WWII

Jane’s entry, 1946.

Chile, as in the Great War, was pro-German in 1939 and maintained Berlin-tilted neutrality for the first part of the conflict. The Chilean Navy in 1941 took over the interned F. Laeisz Hamburg’s four-masted steel-hulled barque Priwall, largely with a crew drawn from Baquedano and her service academies, and sailed her as the nitrate-carrying training ship Lautaro until the latter was lost by accidental fire at sea in 1945. By that stage of the war, Chile had cast her lot with the Allies, her Navy contributing to the defense of the Pacific end of the Panama Canal and patrolling from Easter Island.

By 1951, it was decided to replace the old corvette with a surplus and ideal schooner brig that was languishing on the builder’s ways in cash-strapped post-war Europe. Ordered originally for the Spanish Navy from Echevarria and Larrinaga shipyards of Cádiz in 1946 as Juan de Austria but never completed, the 3,750-ton school ship was baptized Esmeralda, delivered in June 1954, and arrived in Valparaíso on 1 September of that year.

Esmeralda (BE-43) was built in Spain and acquired by Chile in 1952. She made her first instructional cruise in 1955. Known as the La Dama Blanca (The White Lady), she is in active service today, although much less well-armed than Baquedano, carrying only saluting cannons and a small arms locker. Original photograph via the Armada de Chile.

With a new tall ship picking up the torch, Baquedano was decommissioned 5 June 1954– the same week Esmeralda was delivered– and sold for scrapping to the Pacific Steel Company in 1959.

Epilogue

Baquedano is remembered in period artwork, primarily postcards.

Chilean novelist and short fiction writer Francisco Coloane Cárdenas, part of Chile’s famed Generación del 38 art movement, although a Communist later in life, was born the son of a whaler skipper and served in the Chilean Navy as a quartermaster in the late 1920s and 30s. This included a stint on our subject school ship in 1933 that served as inspiration for his coming of age novel El último grumete de la Baquedano (The Last Cabin Boy of Baquedano).

Published in 1941, El último grumete de la Baquedano is considered a national treasure in Chile and is part of the compulsory reading list maintained by the country’s Ministry of Education.

In continuous publication for 80 years, the sailing novel was made into a movie of the same name in 1983, filmed aboard Esmeralda.

Three units of the Chilean Navy have been christened with Baquedano’s name besides our training corvette to include a brown water gunboat for the Amazon, a River-class frigate, formerly HMCS Glace Bay (K414), which served in the 1950s and 60s; and a Broad Beam Leander-class frigate, formerly HMS Ariadne (F72), which was active in the 1990s.

Baquedano’s name will surely sail again.

Specs:
Displacement: 2500 t
Length 240 ft
Draft 18 ft
Engines: 2 x T3cyl (30, 50 & 81.5 x 48ins) 1500ihp, 1 x Screw, (refitted in 1920s)
Speed: 12 knots practical, 13.75 on trials; also rigged as a Barque
Crew: 333 men, with 2/3rds of those cadets and boys
Armament: (As built)
4 x 4.7-inch QF
2 x 12pdr (3-inch)
2 x 6 pdr (57mm) guns
2 x machine guns
1 x 18-inch torpedo tube


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

They are 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 am a member, so should you be!

Christmas at Sea: 1942 Convoy Edition

Official caption: “Somewhere on the storm-tossed Atlantic aboard a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter crossing the shipping lanes guarding a convoy of supplies to America’s fighting men on the far-flung battlefronts. Christmas is the same as any other day to the vigilant men of the Coast Guard who seek out the enemy submarines attempting to molest the continual bridge of ships supplying our men across the seas.” Photo released 11/25/1942.

Note the loaded K-gun, stern depth charge racks, liferafts at the ready to snag floating survivors, and the O1 Division guys trying to stay out of the wash. USCG photo. NARA 26-G-11-25-42(5)

Seagoing East Coast-based cutters were assigned to augment the Navy’s Neutrality Patrol in September 1939 and, by November 1941, the entire branch was transferred to the Navy in toto. While squadrons of brand-new U.S. Navy patrol frigates and destroyer escorts were crewed by Coasties later in the war, in 1942 the USCG had six of seven 327-foot Treasury-class cutters, four 240-foot Tampa-class cutters, the 216-foot USCGC Northland, and 12 165-foot Thetis/Argo class cutters operating in the EASTSEAFRON and North Atlantic.

One, USCGC Alexander Hamilton (WPG-34) was sunk on 29 January1942 by U-132 while patrolling the Icelandic coast. However, the service quickly avenged her death as USCGC Icarus (WPC-110) bagged U-352 off North Carolina’s “Torpedo Junction” in May while sistership USCGC Thetis (WPC-115) depth charged U-157 to the bottom of the Florida Straits in June.

The Mighty B Comes Home for a Visit

Official caption: “The Almirante Didiez Burgos (PA-301), a Dominican Republic navy’s Cutter, sails into Museum Park Marina in Miami, Florida, Nov. 10, 2021. The Dominican Republic’s navy visited Miami to enable the next generation of Dominican commissioned officers to learn about U.S. Coast Guard.”

Not too shabby for being 78 years in service. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Estrada)

If you are a fan of WWII USCG vessels, Burgos is immediately recognizable as a 180-foot seagoing buoy tender of the Balsam/Mesquite-class.

We’ve covered them before in past Warship Wednesdays and they gave lots of service during not only the war but well into the 1990s. 

Built as USCGC Buttonwood (WAGL-306/WLB-306) in Duluth, Minnesota on the Great Lakes, she commissioned 24 September 1943– heading almost immediately for the Pacific.

USCGC Buttonwood tied up after her commissioning- 27 September 1943. Her wartime armament included a 3″/50, two Oerlikons, depth charge tracks, two Mousetraps, four Y-guns, an SL-2 radar, and WEA-2 sonar. Not bad for a 900-ton auxiliary that had a top speed of 13 knots. USCG Historian’s Office photo

She arrived at Guadalcanal in May 1944 and alternated her aids-to-navigation duty with salvage and survey work, often under fire as she moved forward with the fleet. “Mighty B” endured a reported 269 attacks by Japanese aircraft, including 11 air raids in one day, being credited with downing two enemy aircraft with her AAA guns.

On Christmas 1944, she went to the assistance of the burning Dutch troopship Sommeisdijk, which had been hit by a Japanese torpedo, and rescued 182 men.

M.V. SOMMELSDIJK. Built for the Holland America Line and used as a Troopship, the SOMMELSDIJK is shown arriving at San Francisco, California, about 1943. After the war, she returned to commercial service for the line until her scrapping in 1965. Description: Catalog #: NH 89834

Other than her WWII service, Buttonwood had a very active Cold War– providing aids to navigation for military tests sites throughout the Pacific– and the War on Drugs.

USCGC Buttonwood underway in 1960. Note she still has her 3″/50 over the stern but now has a black hull, a common feature of ATON ships in USCG service even today. USCG Historian’s Office photo

For instance, during Korea:

At the outbreak of the Korean War, Buttonwood was re-equipped with sonar gear, guns, and depth charges. Though she was never directly involved with combat, Buttonwood was prepared and trained with the Navy by participating in “war games”. These games often seemed like “cat and mouse” where Buttonwood was tracked by Navy submarines and she, in turn, tried to detect the submarines with sonar equipment. The K-guns and depth charges were subsequently removed in the mid-1950s.

Buttonwood served with the Coast Guard until 2001, and was extensively surveyed for posterity before she was turned over to the Dominicans, who seem to have taken good care of her over the past two decades.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021: From Casablanca to Taipei

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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. 17, 2021: From Casablanca to Taipei

U.S. Navy Photo #80-G-219560 from the United States National Archives

Here we see the future Cannon/Bostwick-class destroyer escort USS Carter (DE 112) launching at the Dravo Corporation yard in Wilmington, Delaware, 29 February 1944.

Named for a 20-year-old TBF gunner, AOM3 Jack Carter (2686624), who was lost at sea during the Torch Landings after searching for a Vichy French submarine, Mrs. Evelyn Carter Patterson sponsored the new tin can, the late aircrewman’s aunt.

Carter was a TBF Avenger gunner flying from VGS-27 on the escort carrier USS Suwannee (ACV/CVE-27), which has spent the preceding days raining 325-pound depth charges on French cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and even ground targets between Fedala and Casablanca in Morocco. The carrier’s report from the accident on the morning of 10 November 1942, via NARA

What were the Cannons?

USS Cannon (DE-99) Dravo builder’s photo. USN CP-DE-99-19-N-51457

The Cannon class, ordered in 1942 to help stem the tide of the terrible U-boat menace in the Atlantic, was also known as the DET type from their Diesel Electric Tandem drive. The DET’s substitution for a turbo-electric propulsion plant was the primary difference with the predecessor Buckley (“TE”) class. The DET was in turn replaced with a direct drive diesel plant to yield the design of the successor Edsall (“FMR”) class.

Besides a heavy ASW armament, these humble ships carried a trio of Mk.22 3″/50s, some deck-mounted torpedo tubes to be effective against larger surface combatants in a pinch, and a smattering of Bofors/Oerlikon AAA mounts.

In all, although 116 Cannon-class destroyer escorts were planned, only 72 were completed. Some of her more well-known sisters included the USS Eldridge, the ship claimed to be a part of the infamous Philadelphia Experiment. The vessels were all cranked out in blocks by four yards with Carter— along with class leaders Cannon and Bostwick— among the nine produced by Dravo.

Getting into the war

Commissioned 3 May 1944, with LCDR Francis John Torrence Baker, USNR (Sewickley, Pa.) as her only wartime skipper, Carter reported to the Atlantic Fleet. After two months of shakedowns to Bermuda and back, her first turn in the barrel was, appropriately for her namesake, shepherding Convoy UGS 50 bound for North Africa as the flagship of Escort Division (CortDiv) 79, a task she would repeat before the year was out with Convoy UGS 63 from Norfolk to Gibraltar, arriving at Oran to have Christmas dinner there three days late due to heavy storms.

On her way back through the Med returning home, she had a close brush with one of Donitz’s wolves when U-870 (KrvKpt. Ernst Hechler) pumped a torpedo into the Liberty ship SS Henry Miller on 3 January 1945.

From Carter’s War History, in the National Archives:

While Miller was a constructive loss with no injuries to her crew and managed to unload her cargo once towed to port, this was balanced out three months later when U-870 was herself sunk by Allied bombs while dockside at Bremen. 

Notably, with the likelihood of engaging a German cruiser or surface raider slim to none by this stage of the war, Carter landed her torpedo tubes at Philadelphia Navy Yard.

She was then assigned to regular antisubmarine patrols from Casco Bay in early 1945 as part of an all-DE submarine Killer Group, a tasking she would conduct for the remainder of the war in the Atlantic. It was with this that she was part of the endgame, moving against the last U-boat offensive against the Eastern Seaboard, one that the brass thought (falsely) might contain V1/V2 rocket carrying subs.

The rumors, mixed with intel that seven advanced U-boats, assigned to Gruppe Seewolf, the last Atlantic Wolfpack, were headed across the Atlantic, sparked Operation Teardrop, an extensive barrier program of ASW assets that ranged the East Coast in early 1945. In the end, Gruppe Seewolf was a dismal failure and the German rocket submarine program never got off the drawing board.

From Carter’s War History, on the engagement she shared with USS Neal A. Scott (DE 769) west of the Azores against U-518, an experienced and successful Type IXC under Oblt. Hans-Werner Offermann, on her seventh patrol. The submarine would not have an eighth:

In May, Carter and her group oversaw the surrender of two U-boats– U-234 (Kptlt. Johann-Heinrich Fehler) and U-858 (Kptlt. Thilo Bode), the latter a Type IXC/40 that had never successfully fired a torpedo in anger, and, true to form, was the first German warship to surrender to U.S. forces without a shot.

U-234, on the other hand, was a big Type XB U-boat built as a long-range cargo submarine with missions to Japan in mind. Commissioned 2 March 1944, she left Germany in the last days of the war in Europe with a mysterious cargo that included dozen high-level officers and advisors, technical drawings, examples of the newest electric torpedoes, one crated Me 262 jet aircraft, a Henschel Hs 293 glide bomb, and 1,210 lbs. of uranium oxide. She never made it to Japan as her skipper decided to make it for Canada instead after the fall of Germany. Two Japanese officers on board committed suicide and were buried at sea while the sub– packed with her particularly important glow-in-the-dark stuff– surrendered south of the Grand Banks, Newfoundland on 14 May, a week after VE Day.

Former U-234 is torpedoed by USS Greenfish (SS-542), in a test, on 20 November 1947, 40 miles northeast of Cape Cod.

Former U-234 is torpedoed by USS Greenfish (SS-542), in a test, on 20 November 1947, 40 miles northeast of Cape Cod.

Speaking of Japan, after three weeks in New York City, during which the veteran destroyer escort saw “an almost complete turnover in personnel” as it was thought “the Carter would be readied for Pacific duty,” instead the tin can was dispatched to Florida to clock in for lifeguard work on plane guard duty for new aircraft carriers working up in the warm waters down south, carrying 64 members of the USNA’s Class of 1946 with her on their Mid cruise.

Post-VJ Day saw Carter make for the big round of victory celebrations including “Nimitz Day” in Washington, D.C. (where 10,000 locals visited the ship), followed by Navy Day in Pensacola anchored alongside with USS Guadalcanal (CVE 60), Floyd B. Parks (DD 884), and Gunnel (SS 253) where the tiny warship, her glad rags flying, was “open for inspection with myriads of people getting the thrill of being on a warship.”

With the fighting over, at least for now, Carter continued her role as a plane guard in Florida into April 1946, where she was placed “out of commission in reserve” at NAS Green Cove Springs in the St. Johns River and added to the 500-strong mothball fleet that swayed at a series of 13 piers built there just for the purpose.

Carter received one battle star for World War II service.

Jane’s 1946 listing for the 57 strong semi-active Bostwick class, including Carter and noting numerous transfers to overseas allies.

A long second life

While Carter’s initial service would last 23 and ¾ months, others could desperately put the low-mileage destroyer escort to good use.

Ultimately 14 of the Cannon/Bostwick class went to France and Brazil during the war, followed by another eight to the French– who apparently really liked the type– four to Greece (including USS Slater which returned home in the 1990s to become the only destroyer escort afloat in the United States), three to Italy, two to Japan, six to the Dutch, three to Peru, five to the Philippines, two to South Korea, one to Thailand, and two to Uruguay.

When it comes to Carter, she and three sisters: Bostwick, Thomas (DE-102), and Breeman (DE-112), in a short ceremony on 14 December 1948, were transferred to Nationalist (Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT) China. Carter became Tài zhāo (also seen transliterated as Taizhao, T’ai Chao, and Tai Chao) after the capital city in central Jiangsu province in eastern China, with the hull/pennant number DE-26.

The four destroyer escorts were soon put into emergency use. During the last phase of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the 26 loyal ships of the ROCN engaged in the protection of supply convoys and the withdrawal of the Nationalist government and over 1 million refugees to Taiwan.

Carter/Tài zhāo was captured in great detail during this time period in Nationalist use by LIFE magazine.

In this image, she still has her 3″/50 Mk22s up front

Fuzing 40mm Bofors rounds. Note the traditional crackerjack and flat cap used by the Nationalists

Crackerjacks combined with M1 helmets and US Navy Mk II talker helmets

The No. 3 mount now has an additional 3″/50 rather than the 40mm Bofors it held as Carter. Also, that is A LOT of depth charges for those 8 throwers and two rails! Ash cans a-go-go

Needing bigger guns for the work envisioned of them, the Chinese quickly upgraded their two forward 3-inchers to a pair of 5″/38 singles in open mounts, as well as substituting the stern 40mm mount for one of the same which gave the ships a 2+2 format with twin 5-inchers over the bow and a 5-inch over a 3-inch over the stern. 

The 1950s saw the fleet heavily involved in the pitched and tense engagements around Kinmen (Quemoy), Matsu (where Carter/Tài zhāo fired 160 5-inch shells against a Red artillery battery ashore), and the Yijiangshan and Dachen Islands in the Taiwan Straits as well as the clandestine Guoguang operations in which the KMT tried to retake the mainland by landing would-be guerilla organization teams in Red territory.

Propaganda shells fired into Red-controlled areas. By John Dominis LIFE

In all, Carter and her three sisters continued to hold the front lines of the Taiwan Straits for 25 years and, for the first decade of that, were the most powerful assets available to the ROCN, a title they held until two Benson-class destroyers (USS Benson and USS Hilary P. Jones) were transferred in 1954. They were also later fitted in the 1960s with Mk.32 12.75-inch ASW torpedo tubes for Mk 44s– which were a lot more effective than depth charges.

Taizhao anchored at the Kaohsiung Xinbin Wharf, late 1940s.

Jane’s 1973-4 listing for the Taiwan Bostwicks, including Carter.

As part of the pressure on Communist China in the tail end of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the Nixon administration transferred a huge flotilla of more advanced warships to Taiwan between late 1970 and early 1973 that included two GUPPY’d Tench-class submarines (one of which is still active), five Gearing-class destroyers, six Sumner-class destroyers, four Fletchers, and USS McComb (DD-458)— a late Gleaves-class destroyer that had been converted to a fast minesweeper. With all these “new-to-you” hulls, the long-serving destroyer escorts could be retired and, by the end of 1973, Carter and her three sisters in Formosan service had been disposed of for scrap.

While Tài zhāo’s name was not recycled by the ROCN– probably as it is the name of a 4-million person city on the mainland– the ChiCom People’s Liberation Army Navy has had two Taizhous including a Type 053 frigate commissioned in 1982 and a Russian-built Sovremenny-class destroyer (ex-Vnushitelnyy) commissioned in 2005.

PLAN destroyer Tài zhāo, photographed by the Japanese in 2015.

Epilogue

A number of Carter’s WWII war diaries, as well as her war history and plans, are in the National Archives.

Besides the museum ship USS Slater (DE-766), now sitting dockside in Albany New York, and the pier side training ship USS Hemminger (DE-746) (now HTMS Pin Klao DE-1) in Thailand, there are no Cannon-class destroyer escorts still afloat.

USS Slater is the only destroyer escort preserved in North America– and is Carter’s sistership

The Destroyer Escort Sailors Association honors the men of all the DEs, regardless of class. Sadly, their 45th annual convention last year was their last as their numbers are rapidly declining.

In 1967, Revelle released a 1:248 scale model of “Nationalist Chinese frigate Tai Chao,” complete with box art that showed her racing among bracketed ChiCom shell plumes, no doubt a fitting tribute to those years of the warship’s life spent fighting an undeclared shadow war in the Taiwan Straits.

Specs:

Cannon class DE’s via USS Slater.com

Displacement: 1,240 tons standard, 1,620 tons full load
Length: 306.1 ft
Beam: 36.1 ft
Draft: 11.5 ft full load
Propulsion: 4 GM Mod. 16-278A diesel engines with electric drive 4.5 MW (6000 shp), two screws
Speed: 21 knots
Range: 10,800 nm at 12 knots
Complement: 15 officers 201 enlisted men
Armament:
(1944)
3 × single Mk.22 3″/50 caliber guns
3 × twin 40 mm Mk.1 AA gun
8 × 20 mm Mk.4 AA guns
3 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
1 × Hedgehog Mk.10 anti-submarine mortar (144 rounds)
8 × Mk.6 depth charge projectors
2 × Mk.9 depth charge tracks


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!

Santa Barbara pokes out

Passing through Mobile last week, I saw this big grey beast emerging.

The future USS Santa Barbara (LCS 32), rolling out of her assembly bay. (Photo: Austal)

The 16th Independence-class littoral combat ship was laid down last October and, with the rollout, is nearing her official launching and christening. There are only three more of her class on the schedule.

While replacing frigates on the Naval List, they are being named instead after small cities, a tradition used for light cruisers, gunboats, and transports/auxiliaries. The previous two Santa Barbaras have been of the latter type.

The first, a 13,000-ton single-screw freighter, was taken over from the Atlantic & Pacific Steamship Co. in 1918 and served with the Naval Overseas Transportation Service (NOTS) during the Great War.

USS Santa Barbara (ID # 4522) “Crowded with homeward-bound troops, while arriving in a U.S. East Coast port in 1919.” The original image is printed on postcard (AZO) stock. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2008. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 106367

Returned to her owners, she continued in the merchant trade as SS American until she was sunk by U-504 off Belize in 1942.

Ammunition ship USS Santa Barbara (AE-28) underway with the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) battle group. The ship, which is part of Task Group 24.4, is in an 18-ship formation that is transiting the North Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. 8.12.1988 DN-ST-89-01280 by PH2 William Lipski

The second Santa Barbara— and the first ordered by the Navy– was the Kilauea-class ammunition ship (AE-28). Commissioned 11 July 1970, she was transferred to the MSC in 1998 as T-AE-28 for another seven years of service with a civilian crew.

She was sold for scrap in 2007.

With that, it will be kinda nice that the third ship named for the California city that is, in turn, named after the patron saint of artillery, will be carried by a warship, even if it is an LCS.

Galvanic Battlewagon

Some 78 years ago today:

A Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless dive bomber from the Essex-class fleet carrier USS Lexington (CV-16)— or possibly her sistership Yorktown (CV-10)— in the background, flies anti-submarine patrol over the North Carolina-class fast battleship USS Washington (BB-56) while en route to the invasion of Tarawa and Makin Islands in the Gilbert Island chain (Operation Galvanic). 12 November 1943.

USN photo # 80-G-204897, now in the collection of the National Archives.

Laid down by Philadelphia Naval Ship Yard, 14 June 1938, Washington commissioned 15 May 1941 and earned 13 battle stars during World War II in operations that carried her from the Arctic Circle to the western Pacific. Decommissioned in mid-1947 and assigned to the New York group of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet, she was stricken and sold in 1961 for scrap.

Ironically, both Lexington and Yorktown are preserved as floating museum ships.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021: Alert, you Deserved Better

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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. 3, 2021: Alert, you Deserved Better

Here we see a member of the 35 so-called “Buck and a Quarter” Active-class Coast Guard cutters rushed into completion to deal with bootleggers during Prohibition, the USCGC Alert (WSC-127), as she appeared in 1950 coming back into her homeport at Morro Bay, still largely in her WWII configuration. These choppy little gunboats were designed to serve as subchasers in times of war and Alert did her part during the conflict.

She is back in the news this week, and not in a good way.

The class

These cutters were intended for trailing the “Blacks,” 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 and M1903 Springfields. In a time of conflict, it was thought 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 long held by the Coast Guard and its preceding Lighthouse Service, Revenue Marine, and Revenue Cutter Services.

A long line of Alerts

The first Alert was a 58-foot, 75-ton schooner built by Christian Bergh of New York in 1818 for $6,000. Constructed of live oak, red cedar, and locust, she spent her career policing waters off New England. She was armed with a 32-pound carronade said by some to have been recovered from the wrecked sixth-rate flush-decked sloop-of-war HMS Hermes

Revenue Cutter Alert (1818)

The second Alert was a larger, 74-foot, 120-ton schooner that entered service in 1829. Carrying six guns– a mix of 12-pounder, 4-pounders, and 3-pounders– she participated in both the Nullification Controversy in 1832 and the Mexican War in addition to the service’s efforts to suppress the illegal slave trade and piracy at sea.

The third Alert (2 x 12 pounders) was also a schooner, purchased from consumer trade in 1855, that was later seized in January 1861 while at the docks in Mobile, Alabama by “state authorities.” Up-armed with a 32-pounder, her career with the Confederate Navy was short, as she was captured by the powerful Merrimack-class screw frigate USS Roanoke the following October and scuttled.

The fourth Alert was a small (40-foot, 10-ton) centerboard sloop that entered service in 1877 and served off the East Coast until 1896, one of the service’s final all-sail-powered vessels.

The fifth Alert was a 62-foot, 19-ton wooden-hulled steam launch acquired by the Revenue Cutter Service in November 1900. She spent seven years on quarantine duties out of Gulfport, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama when her crew transferred to a newly constructed vessel of the same name.

The sixth Alert, a 61-foot, 35-ton steel-hulled steam launch built at Mobile in 1907 was a regular in Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound, hauling around National Guard troops to and from the local coastal forts and operating directly under Navy control during the Great War, keeping an eye out for the Kaiser’s submarines. She was sold in 1920 then the subject of our tale, the seventh USCGC Alert, picked up the mantle.

Meet WSC-127

The seventh Alert was placed in commission on 27 January 1927 then proceeded to her first homeport at Boston, “holding sea trials, formation drills, anchorage drills, and gunnery practice en route.” The new cutter continued operating out of Boston as a unit of Division One, Offshore Patrol Force, a Prohibition enforcement unit, until mid-November 1928, when she was ordered to the West Coast, arriving at Oakland in early 1929.

Transiting from New London, Connecticut to California was a 6,000-mile sortie via the Panama Canal that involved not only Alert but her sisterships Bonham, Ewing, Morris, and McLane.

As Prohibition fizzled and the need for Alert to stalk “Blacks” dissolved, her homeport shifted to Ketchikan, Alaska Territory, in May 1931. She would spend the rest of the decade there involved in the Bering Sea Patrol and other enterprises that came with service in the rough and tumble Northern Pacific frontier.

While her homeport changed to Alameda in 1940, she remained on call for Bering Sea patrols as needed. However, war intervened and, after the Coast Guard was shifted to the Navy Department’s control that year, she was assigned to the Navy’s Western Sea Frontier for the conflict.

This saw her armament boosted to include a 40mm Bofors, a pair of 20mm Oerlikons, depth charges, and (eventually) radar and sonar fits. By the end of the war, Hedgehog devices were installed. 

“A Coast Guard Gun Crew On The Alert, 1/6/1943.” The gun is a single 20mm/80 Oerlikon with a 60-round drum mag. USCG photo in the National Archives 26-G-01-06-43(3)

The 125-foot Coast Guard Cutter Cuyahoga ready to depart from the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, Md., Feb. 11, 1945. U.S. Coast Guard photo. Note her 40mm Bofors crowding her bow. Alert and her sisters had a similar appearance.

Once the panic of 1941 and 1942 subsided, Alert’s wartime duty along the California coast consisted primarily of keeping an eye peeled for wayward mines and missing aircrews.

125 ft. Active-class “Buck and a Quarters,” via 1946 Janes

Postwar, in 1949 Alert was stationed at Morro Bay, where she would spend a decade and participate in the notable SAR cases of DeVere Baker’s series of Lehi rafts that aimed to make it from the West Coast to Hawaii.

Alert also made the rescue of one Owen H. “Curley” Lloyd, a Bodega Bay commercial fisherman, and his deckhand Manual Texiera, whose 50-foot longliner, Norwhal, was lost following a collision with a whale.

In 1959, then moved to San Diego, where she would finish her career. This concluding chapter in her service– by then Alert had been with the Coast Guard for over four decades– was hectic.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office:

An estimated 90 percent of her underway time is spent assisting distressed small craft skippers. The remainder is generally allotted to disabled members of San Diego’s commercial fishing fleet. Most of the cutter’s 65 to 70 rescue cases each year emanate within a 25-mile radius of Point Loma. During 1966, three emergencies involving American boatmen necessitated runs along nearly the entire length of Baja California’s 750-mile peninsula. Carrying a crew of three officers and 25 enlisted men, the 290-ton Alert boats a beam of 24-feet. While cruising at 10 knots, she has a range of 2,300 miles. Her twin 400-horsepower diesel engines can develop a top speed of 19 knots.

A former crewman noted that the aforementioned press release was overly optimistic about her top speed. The crewman noted: “Now I spent two tours for a total of 4 years as her radioman back in the late 50s and mid 60s and having been qualified as an underway OOD I can tell you for sure she would not get a kick over 13 kts.”

Alert was decommissioned 10 January 1969 and sold before the year was out to Highland Laboratories of San Francisco for $30,476.19, which was a rather good amount of coin for a well-worn vessel that amounted to about half of her original construction cost.

The eighth Alert was soon to keep the name warm and was commissioned on Coast Guard Day—4 August 1969– while the seventh Alert was still awaiting disposal. That vessel, a 210-foot Reliance-class medium endurance cutter (WMEC-630) is still in service 52 years later!

“U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alert (WMEC 630) sails near Puerto Chiapas, Mexico, while participating in a three-day North American Maritime Security Initiative exercise, March 1, 2020. NAMSI is a tri-national effort by forces of the United States, Canada, and Mexico to improve mutual capacity for operational coordination. U.S. Coast Guard photo.”

Museum failure

The seventh Alert was kept in California for years and was a regular sight along the coast.

As noted by a now-folded Old Cutter Alert website for a group that aimed to make her a museum ship, most of her systems and equipment were still original to 1926 late into her civilian life:

The Alert was purchased from the Coast Guard in 1969 by Highland Film Labs and Mr. Barry Brose signed the receipt for her. The Alert was then maintained in her original Coast Guard condition, which was essentially unchanged from 1945, and was very active in San Francisco Bay maritime activities. The Alert was utilized by the sea scouts for training purposes, and occasionally she made appearances in the news, television shows, and movies.

Since 1990, the Alert sat unused and many of her systems became inoperable. In early 2005, the Cutter Alert Preservation Team, Inc., a non-profit corporation, was formed and took over ownership of the Alert, and after eighteen months of overdue maintenance by devoted C.A.P.T. chief engineer Mike Stone, the Alert was once again operable and seaworthy.

A home was finally found for the Alert in the Pacific Northwest, and After a shakedown cruise to the Faralon Islands off the California coast in early 2005, the Alert headed north. This was her first open ocean voyage in over 35 years and other than some rough seas and a balky port engine the voyage was uneventful. After a short stay in Coos Bay and Rainier Oregon, the Alert finally arrived at her final destination… Portland, Oregon.

Alert at Vancouver 2007. Note that she is in her USCG scheme complete with a buff mast and stack with a black cap and insignia. Also, note the (surely deactivated) 40mm Bofors forward.

ex-CGC Alert (WMEC-127), 2012. Note the “Save the Old Alert” banner, covered Bofors (?) and extensive awnings. 

The group had her for well over a decade, then seemed to fold away around 2019, never achieving plans to ensure that:

“The future for the Alert will consist of museum-type tours of the ship and her systems, overnight stays for youth and veterans groups (she has berthing for over thirty-five persons plus three officer’s staterooms); and of course remaining operational to conduct on the water activities as a goodwill ambassador of her home port of Portland, Oregon.”

Since then, parties unknown have slowly stripped her as she left to the homeless with the resulting vandalism that comes with that. She was the location of an encampment dubbed “The Pirates of the Columbia,” by the media and locals that was only rousted out last year– a rare pushback in Portlandia.

Images posted by Cody Parsons online this summer of Alert’s poor condition

Over the past few months, the Coast Guard and DEQ have been removing petroleum, oil, and lubricants on board in preparation to dispose of the now-derelict vessel.

Then, reports surfaced this week that she is now on the bottom.

Via the Nautical History Preservation Society: “It’s with great sadness that we announce the sinking of the Alert. The cause is under investigation, vandalism is under suspicion. The vessel seemed very sound on the crews’ previous visit a few months ago. The NHPS will be holding an emergency board meeting to determine the next steps. We will be posting updates.”

“This exemplifies the broken dreams of many people,” said Scott Smith, emergency response planner for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). “[Alert] got into a worse and worse condition.”

It is a shame.

The rest of the story with the Buck and a Quarters

As for the rest of the Active-class cutters, they all 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.

Boston: “125 ft CGC cutter LEGARE (WSC-144) which fought 20-40 foot waves to take a 79-foot fishing vessel MARMAX in tow, is now proceeding to her home port, New Bedford”

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.

Photo of Cuyahoga in the 1970s in its role as an Officer Candidate School training vessel, in white livery with the now-traditional racing stripe. U.S. Coast Guard photo

With her service to the country over with, Tiger–a Pearl Harbor veteran– 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.

Previously USCGC Bonham (WSC-129) as tug Polar Star. This cutter went through the Panama Canal in 1929 with Alert on their 6,000nm trip from East to West Coast.

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).

Another sister ship that sailed with Alert through the Panama Canal in 1929, ex-USCGC Morris (WSC/WMEC-147), like Alert, has been bopping around the West Coast in a series of uses since the 1970s including as a training ship with the Sea Scouts and as a working museum ship in Sacramento.

USCGC Morris (WPC-147/WSC-147/WMEC-147) late in her career. Note her 40mm Bofors forward, which was fitted in 1942. (USCG photo)

We wrote how she was for sale on Craigslist for $90K in 2019, in decent shape.

Now, she has been saved, again.

The Vietnam War Flight Museum in Galveston, Texas, announced in May that they have officially taken the title of the historic ship intending to continue her operations, and have been slowly moving her to the Gulf.

Small victories for small ships…

Specs:


(1927)
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 gals of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 2 officers, 20 men
Armament:
1 × 3″/23 caliber gun forward, small arms

(1945)
Displacement: 320 tons (full load)
Length: 125 ft (o.a) 120 ft. (w.l.)
Beam: 23.5 ft.
Draft: 9 ft
Propulsion: twin 400HP General Motors 268a 2-cycle diesel engines, (800hp total), twin screws
Speed: 12 knots, max
Range: 3,500 nm at 7 knots, cruise with 6,800 gals of 95% fuel oil.
Complement: 5 officers, 41 men
Sensors: QCN-2 sonar, SO-9 radar
Armament:
1 × 40 mm/60 (single), forward
2 × 20 mm/70 (single), wings (removed 1950s)
2 × depth charge tracks, stern (removed 1950s)
2 × Mousetrap ASW, forward (removed 1950s)


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!

« Older Entries