The 50-year-old Hamilton-class 378-foot high endurance cutter USCGC Sherman (WHEC-720) has returned from her final trip under a U.S. flag last week following a 76-day patrol in the Bering Sea. She is scheduled to decommission in March.
From USCG Public Affairs:
During the three-month patrol, the crew supported the safe transit of a disabled vessel over 800 miles to Dutch Harbor, enforced fisheries regulations in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. They also provided a command and control platform capable of embarking a helicopter, thus providing search and rescue coverage to those operating in the Bering Sea.
Sherman has a storied history including being the last remaining U.S. Warship in the Coast Guard or Navy to have sunk an enemy vessel. It is also one of only two cutters to hold the Vietnam Service Award and the only cutter to hold the Combat Action Ribbon for action in the Vietnam War.
In 2001 it became the first cutter to circumnavigate the world, after conducting U.N. sanctions enforcement duty in the Persian Gulf and goodwill projects in Madagascar, South Africa and Cape Verde.
Adding to Sherman’s history, in March of 2007, a boarding team dispatched from the cutter discovered 17 metric tons of cocaine on the Panamanian-flagged freighter, Gatun. This seizure remains the largest drug bust in U.S. history with an estimated street value of $600 million. As the record holder, Sherman proudly wears the Golden Snowflake.
The crew rounded out the cutter’s storied career in the Bering Sea; conducting 16 fisheries boardings, issuing four fisheries violations and one safety violation, ensuring the integrity of the $6 billion fishing industry. As the primary search and rescue asset in the region at the time, Sherman also ensured the safe transit of the crew of the Resolve Pioneer, a Dutch Harbor-based ocean-going tug, following a severe casualty at the far end of the Aleutian chain, restricting their speed and maneuverability.
“As Sherman and her crew return home from this final patrol, it is humbling to look back on the history and the accomplishments of this crew and the previous,” said Capt. Steve Wittrock, commanding officer of Sherman. “This final patrol has been significant in that the Bering Sea mission is one of the most demanding and historically important in the Coast Guard and I am very proud of the way that the crew has performed throughout the last two challenging months.”
Sherman is one of the Coast Guard’s four remaining 378-foot high endurance cutters still in operation. The 1960s era fleet of cutters is presently being replaced by the 413-foot national security cutters, which will soon serve as the Coast Guard’s primary, long-range asset. Honolulu will serve as a homeport to two of the national security cutters, replacing Sherman and the already decommissioned Morgenthau.
So far, the State Department has passed on three of the stricken “378s” to the Philippines (USCGC Hamilton, Boutwell, Dallas), two to the Nigerian Navy (Gallatin and Chase) and two to the Bangladesh Navy (Jarvis and Rush). Morgenthau went to the Vietnam Coast Guard last year. With Sherman decommissioned, only USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717) and Midgett (WHEC-726) based in Seattle, and Munro (WHEC-724) in Kodiak remain in U.S. service and are expected to be replaced by the National Security Cutter program by 2021.
The Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau (WHEC-722), a 378-foot high endurance cutter, will be decommissioned at Base Honolulu, Tuesday after nearly a half-century of service, including action in the Vietnam War, numerous major drug interdictions, and law enforcement cases, and a variety of noteworthy rescues.
Cutter Morgenthau, commissioned March 10, 1969, was the eighth of 12 Hamilton-class high endurance cutters built by Avondale Shipyards in New Orleans. She was the only vessel named for Henry Morgenthau Jr, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt (all of her sisters were named after T-secs as the USCG belonged to that cabinet position until 1967)
Morgenthau was very active in the Vietnam War, conducting support for coastal patrol craft, naval gunfire support, and patrol duties off the coast of Vietnam until relieved by a 311-foot cutter in 1971. During her period in Market Time, she delivered 19 NGFS fire missions on targets ashore and inspected 627 junks/sampans and cruised 38,000 miles on patrol.
In 1977, Morgenthau became the first cutter to have women permanently assigned, which paved the way for numerous women to serve aboard Coast Guard cutters nationwide.
In the fall of 1996, Morgenthau was the first U.S. Coast Guard cutter to deploy to the Arabian Gulf. Participating in Operation Vigilant Sentinel, Morgenthau enforced Iraq’s compliance with United Nations sanctions. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Morgenthau participated in Operation Noble Eagle to safeguard America’s prominent port cities through closer scrutiny of maritime traffic.
Just a few months ago, she completed a 90-day 15,000-mile patrol in the Bering Sea in Winter which, besides fisheries patrol work, included the rescue of the Australian sailing vessel Rafiki and the 400-foot cargo ship BBC Colorado, picking up the Capt. Hopley Yeaton Cutter Excellence Award for 2016.
The below is from her 105-day/18,000-mile April-Aug 2014 patrol (there is a shootex at ~17:50)
“The U.S. State Department is coordinating the transfer of Morgenthau through the Foreign Assistance Act. This act allows the transfer of excess defense articles as a grant to friendly, foreign governments.”
So far, State has passed on the three of the “378s” to the Philippines (USCGC Hamilton, Boutwell, Dallas), two to the Nigerian Navy (Gallatin and Chase) and two to the Bangladesh Navy (Jarvis and Rush). With Morgenthau decommissioned, only USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717) and Midgett (WHEC-726) based in Seattle, Sherman (WHEC-720) in Honolulu, and Munro (WHEC-724) in Kodiak remain in U.S. service and are expected to be replaced by the National Security Cutter program by 2021.
A report by the GAO issued last month has gripes with the USCG’s new 418-foot National Security Cutters which have been slowly joining the fleet. While quantum leaps over the old 378s they are replacing on a 1:1.5 ratio due to the fact they have longer legs, better accommodations, stern launched small boats, capabilities for both a Dolphin and a UAV at the same time as well as more up-to-date EW, ELINT, radar and commo gear, they are still having problems with making their weapons suite do what it is designed for.
Now keep in mind that the weapons on Coast Guard cutters are actually “owned” by the Navy so there has always been a degree of disconnect, but there are still some pretty bad things that have surfaced over the course of Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) and Combat System Ship Qualification Trials (CSSQT).
While the CIWS, NULKA launcher, and air search radar were all repaired following IOT&E, post operational reports indicate that problems persist with these systems as they were often unavailable during operations. For example, the CIWS was inoperable on the Stratton for at least 61 days in 2014; the NULKA was inoperable on the Stratton from October 2013 through April 2014; and, according to Coast Guard officials, the air search radar has had 18 casualties, or failures, across the three operational NSCs over the past 19 months, with a lead time for repairs of up to 18 months. Further, the ship was not tested to see if it could achieve a hard and soft kill against a subsonic anti-ship cruise missile due to a moratorium on using target drones.
Also, getting ammo to the CIWS is a bitch:
The ammunition hoists are difficult to use in their current configuration, and the crew of the NSC prefers to carry ammunition for the CIWS by hand rather than use the hoist.
Then there are engine problems which include overheating engines in tropical waters and cracked heads at an alarming rate:
The NSC has encountered casualties with the engines’ cylinder heads at a higher than expected rate, averaging four cracked cylinder heads per cutter per year. According to Coast Guard officials, cylinder heads are not normally expected to fail at this rate. The equipment manufacturer has redesigned the cylinder heads in an effort to prevent them from cracking, and all of the operational NSCs have been equipped with the re-designed part, but the NSCs have continued to experience cracked cylinder heads even with the new design, which can result in an inability to conduct operations. For example, in 2014, the Waesche missed 11 planned operational days as a result of this problem.
However, as the report states, a series of mods, upgrades and “we’re working on it(s)” are planned.
Another 378 is being sent to pasture with the looming retirement and decommissioning of USCGC Boutwell (WHEC-719), who returned from her final patrol last week, a 41-day run around the Bearing Sea.
Based out of San Diego and named for Grant’s Treasury secretary, Boutwell was laid down in 1967 during a very different time in history than we know now.
The 3250-ton Hamilton-class cutter has put in 47 years of hard service that included standing by the disabled Soviet H-2 nuclear-powered submarine in 1972, the Prinsendam ocean liner rescue in 1980, the crazy Orca incident, shelled the Fukuyoshi Maru No. 85 ghost ship under the waves with her 5-inch deck gun (back when the USCG had 5-inch guns), and spent much time on six-week long Alaska Patrols during which she conducted surveillance operations and enforced international treaties and U.S. laws during the heart of the Cold War– often tracking multiple Soviet sonar contacts at the same time (back when the Coasties ran ASW).
She is scheduled to be modified and handed over to the Philippine Navy in coming months.
Although 36 cutters of this class were originally planned, only 12 were ever built. So far six Hamiltons have been retired and passed on to Allied navies including The Philippines who operate Gregorio del Pilar (ex-Hamilton) and Ramon Alcaraz (ex-Dallas), the Nigerians who run Okpabana (ex-Gallatin) and Thunder (ex-Chase) and the Bangladesh Navy with their Somudro Joy (ex-Jarvis) and Somudro Avijan (ex-Rush).
Boutwell‘s decommissioning will leave the USCG with only Mellon, Sherman, Morgenthau, Munro and Midgett in service (for now) from this vintage line.
Fair winds and full sails, Boutwell.
The top of the line in 1960s warship technology, the dozen New Orleans-built Hamilton-class of High Endurance Coast Guard Cutters or “378’s” as they are referred to by the branch, were the go-to work horses of USCG for the past four decades. They replaced a host of WWII (and earlier) cutters and stood on the line against the Soviets, ready to escort convoys to Europe if the balloon ever went up. They saw real-live shooting war in Vietnam, providing naval gunfire support to the troops ashore. Mostly based on the west coast, today the class spends most of its time in Alaskan and Hawaiian waters.
Above you see five in 1992 in San Diego (Alameda). This is just after they were FRAM’d with Harpoon missiles (only Morgenthau so equipped) 76mm guns, CIWS and modern torpedo tubes.
Of these five today, Sherman has just returned to San Diego from international exercises in South American waters, Munro is based in Alaska, Morgenthau in Honolulu, Boutwell is still in California, and Jarvis was decommissioned 2012 then transferred to the Bangladesh Navy where she serves as BNS Somudro Joy (F-28).
Within the coming decade all of the remaining Hamiltons will be decommissioned and replaced by the new National Security Cutter.