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Warship Wednesday, August 4, 2021: The Grand Old Lady of the North

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, August 4, 2021: The Grand Old Lady of the North

USCG Photo, National Archives & Record # 26-G-5608

As today is the 231st birthday of the founding of what today is known as the U.S. Coast Guard, you knew this was coming! Here we see the floating football that is the Wind-class Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAG/WAGB-282) mustering up all available power from her six engines to penetrate a pressure ridge in the Bearing Sea during the winter season, July 1953. Note her twin 5″/38 mount forward and her Hedgehog ASW system at the platform under the bridge. Pretty stout armament for an iceboat, but we’ll get into that.

How the “Winds” came to blow

When World War II started, the U.S. Navy was up to the proverbial frozen creek as far as icebreaking went. While some foreign powers (the Soviets) really liked the specialized ships, Uncle Sam did not share the same opinion. However, this soon changed in 1941 when the U.S., even before Pearl Harbor, accepted Greenland and Iceland to their list of protected areas. Now, tasked with having to keep the Nazis out of the frozen extreme North Atlantic/Arctic and the Japanese out of the equally chilly North Pac/Arctic region (anyone heard of the Aleutians?), the Navy needed ice-capable ships yesterday.

The old (read= broken down) 6,000-ton British-built Soviet icebreaker Krassin was studied in Bremerton Washington by the Navy and Coast Guard. Although dating back to the Tsar, she was still at the time the most powerful icebreaker in the world. After looking at this ship and the Swedish icebreaker Ymer, the U.S. began work on the Wind-class, the first U.S. ships designed and built specifically as icebreakers.

Set up with an extremely thick (over an inch and a half) steel hull, these ships could endure repeated ramming against hard pack ice. Just in case the hull did break, there were 15-inches of cork behind it, followed by a second inner hull. Now that is serious business. These ships were so hardy that one, USCGC Westwind (WAGB 281), almost 30 years after she joined the fleet, was heavily damaged by ice in the Antarctic’s Weddell Sea. About 120 feet of the port-side hull was gashed when brash ice forced the ship against a 100-foot sheer ice shelf. The gash was two to three feet wide and was six feet above the waterline. The crew patched the side, there were no injuries, and the breaker returned home under her own power.

At over 6,000-tons, these ships were bulky for their short, 269-foot hulls. They were also bathtub-shaped, with a 63-foot beam. For those following along at home, that’s a 1:4 length to beam ratio. Power came from a half-dozen mammoth Fairbanks-Morse 10-cylinder diesel engines that both gave the ship a lot of power on demand, but also an almost unmatched 32,000-mile range (not a misprint, that is 32-thousand). For an idea of how much that is, a Wind-class icebreaker could sail at an economical 11-knots from New York to Antarctica, and back, on the same load of diesel…twice.

A photo of USCGC Eastwind, circa 1944. Note how beamy these ships were. The twin 5-inch mounts on such a short hull make her seem extremely well-armed. USCG Photo

To help them break the ice, the ship had a complicated system of water ballasting, capable of moving hundreds of tons of water from one side of the ship to the other in seconds, which could rock the vessel from side to side in addition to her thick hull and powerful engines. A bow-mounted propeller helped chew up loose ice and pull the ship along if needed.

With a war being on, they just weren’t about murdering ice, but being able to take the fight to polar-bound Axis ships and weather detachments as well. For this, they were given a pair of twin 5″/38 turrets, a dozen 40mm Bofors AAA guns, a half dozen 20mm Oerlikons, as well as depth charge racks and various projectors, plus the newfangled Hedgehog device to slay U-boats and His Imperial Japanese Majesty’s I-boats. Weight and space were also reserved for a catapult-launched and crane-recovered seaplane. Space for an extensive small arms locker, to equip landing parties engaged in searching remote frozen islands and fjords for radio stations and observation posts, rounded out the design.

Two of the class, Eastwind and Southwind, operated against teams of German scientists and military personnel who attempted to establish weather stations in remote areas of Greenland late in the war.

As noted by the USCG Historian’s Office on this chapter of “The Weather War,”:

On 4 October 1944 Eastwind captured a German weather station on Little Koldewey Island and 12 German personnel. On 15 October 1944 Eastwind captured the German trawler Externsteine and took 17 prisoners. The trawler was renamed East Breeze and a prize crew sailed her to Boston.

Our Wind

Northwind was ordered from Western Pipe & Steel Co., Los Angeles, (Builder’s Number CG-184) for $9,880,037 and her keel was laid 10 July 1944, the same week the Allies were fighting for Saint-Lo in France and Saipan in the Pacific. Impressively, she was finished in 54 weeks, commissioning 28 July 1945, just a fortnight before the Japanese threw in the towel. As such, her war service was negligible.

However, she was soon on the cutting edge of modern polar operations. Stationed in Boston, she landed her aft 5-inch mount to clear her decks for a large helicopter platform to accommodate a primitive HNS helicopter of the type the  Coast Guard had pioneered the use of in 1944-45.

Original caption: Preparing for Arctic Cruise, 1946. Especially rigged and outfitted for its arctic cruise, the Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind, is shown in New York Harbor before she sailed last spring. The helicopter, which is proving valuable in the work in hand, needs only a small “platform” on which to take off or land and both operations can be carried on while the vessel is steaming at full speed. NARA 26-G-4936

Shown here just before leaving to participate in the Navy expedition to the North Pole, the Coast Guard Cutter Northwind lies at anchor in New York’s harbor, June 26, 1946. Note the NYC skyline to include the Empire State Building. NARA 26-G-4937

Then came a deployment in the form of Operation Nanook, under the command of Captain Richard Cruzen. The destination: Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, where Northwind would field the first helicopter seen in that part of the world.

As detailed by the Coast Guard Aviation Association

The task force was made up of two Navy AK transports modified for sub-zero operations, fully equipped to construct the stations. In addition, the Seaplane tender USS Norton Sound, with two PBM seaplanes, was part of the Taskforce as was the submarine Atule which conducted tests and carried out operations under the ice in Baffin Bay and to the north. The wooden-hulled net tender Whitewood was used as a survey ship. The Coast Guard ice breaker Northwind joined the group north of the arctic circle providing escort and navigation through the ice fields. The Northwind had on board an HNS helicopter piloted by Coast Guard Aviation Pilot 1/c John Olsen. This was a precursor of things to come in polar operations.

Sikorsky HNS-1 helicopter, CGNR 39047, lifts off from the deck of USCGC Northwind on 1 September 1946, during Operation Nanook. Note insignia of what appears to be an Eskimo girl seated astride a polar bear, with the words “Arctic Annie.” Photograph by Photographer’s Mate Second Class P.R. Zimmerman, USN. 80-G-636441

Inset of the Sikorsky’s insignia.

In November 1946, Capt. Charles Ward Thomas, the famed skipper of her sistership USCGC Eastwind during the Weather War with the Germans, assumed command of Northwind. During the Thomas years, Northwind would participate in Operation High Jump, the fourth Byrd expedition to the Antarctic, and subject of the Academy Award-winning motion picture, “The Secret Land.”

Highjump and the follow-on Windmill operation in 1947-48 to this day were the largest naval task forces to operate in Antarctica, consisting of 13 ships including an aircraft carrier and 33 aircraft. Many crackpot legends hold it was to scout out possible secret Nazi bases in the region where Hitler, who was still thought missing at the time, may have escaped to via U-boat.

Northwind spearhead of the expedition, clearing the way through the Ross Sea ice pack for Navy cargo ships. For the mission, she carried both a Grumman J2F Duck floatplane and a whirlybird.

Original caption: Coast Guard ‘Copter Scouts for Leads. From the deck of the Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind, the ship’s helicopter takes off, to look for the “leads” in the ice packs, into which the super ice crusher can smash her way, opening a passage for the thin-hulled vessels of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition. Here the Northwind is followed by the Merrick, Yancey, and the Mt. Olympus. The ‘copter proved of special value, being able to hover and study ice conditions for the benefit of the Northwind’s skipper.” 1/1/1947 NARA 26-G-5024

Sikorsky HNS-1 helicopter, CGNR 39043, landing on the deck of USS Northwind (WAG-282) on 2 January 1947. 80-G-612006

It was during Highjump that Northwind successfully completed the first major rescue mission involving a submarine, freeing USS Sennet (SS-408) along with the supply ships Yance and Merrick, who were stuck in a thick ice flow in the Antarctic Circle.

7 January 1947- Operation Highjump, Coast Guard icebreaker NORTHWIND completed the first rescue mission involving a submarine. USS Sennet (SS-408) supply ships Yance and Merrick

Original caption: “The Northwind Hits It! The Antarctic. The World of Ice. With her diesel-electric motors, with power ranging up to 10,000, going full blast, the Coast Guard’s icebreaker Northwind charges the ice pack at top speed. Following the terrific crash, the Northwind rides half a ship’s length up onto the ice before she is stopped. She backs away and charges again and again until the area is broken up and ready for the thin-hulled vessels which follow her. This arduous duty of the Northwind was a day after day routine, as her part of the work of the Byrd Expedition to the Antarctic. This photo was taken from the Northwind’s helicopter, which proved so valuable in scouting out loads in the ice, far in advance of the ships.” 1/5/1947. Note the J2F Duck on her deck. NARA 26-G-03-18-47(7)

On 15 January 1947, Northwind’s chopper made the first helicopter flight to the base “Little America” in Antarctica. The pilot was LT James A. Cornish, USCG and he carried Chief Photographer’s Mate Everett Mashburn as his observer.

Icebreaker USS Northwind (AGB-5) cuts across the bow of USS Mount Olympus (AGC-8) to clear a path for her, through pack ice off the Ross Sea, Antarctica 1947-02-28 L45-209.06.01.

Original caption: Cargo being transferred from the USS Philippine Sea to the Coast Guard Ice-Breaking Cutter Northwind, on Operation Highjump, the Navy’s venture of exploration to the Antarctic. The Coast Guard Ice-Breaker has the task of opening lanes through heavy ice when other vessels with thinner plating could not force their way through. NARA 26-G-5062

Stationed in Seattle from 1947 to 1973, she fell into a cycle of polar ice operations, alternating trips from the Arctic to the Antarctic. In 1948, with the Northwind, Captain Thomas re-established the annual Bering Sea Patrol, which had been discontinued during the war, conducting the first such patrol in eight years, and compiled an oceanographic report of the waters navigated in the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

Northwind’s crew, by nature of the cutter’s work, saw some amazing things.

Original caption: “The Antarctic. The World of Ice. Desert of Death. Seldom indeed has the eye of man looked at this bleak desert of ice. This is a tiny portion of the limitless icepack that stands guard around the Antarctic continent. The Coast Guard’s icebreaker Northwind smashes its way into the virgin ice, making a passage for the thin-hulled vessels which made up the central group of the Byrd Expedition to the Antarctic.” 1/11/1947. NARA 26-G-03-18-47(11)

Original caption: “Bering Sea Patrol, its scenery on the grand scale for the Northwind as she roses into an Alaskan fjord. Views rivaling the ethereal beauty of the Alps, are typical of the stale and abound fringed coasts of Alaska.” 11/14/1948 NARA 26-G-5300

Original caption: The Artist is Mother Nature – On a refueling mission in Alaskan waters, the U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind (WAGB-282) passes snow-capped Mt. Shishaldin in this picturesque scene, taken on the Bering Sea side of the Aleutian Islands. Mt. Shishaldin is one of 80 active volcanoes in the Aleutians. 11/26/1950 NARA 26-G-5477

Her Cold War career (see what I did there) consisted largely of a series of Operation Deep Freeze resupply missions to the Antarctic, alternating with Bering Sea patrols with the latter including missions to install and support the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line.

Original caption: Postman Artic Style. Swooping down over the ice, a Coast Guard PBY from the Air Detachment at Kodiak, Alaska, makes an aerial pick-up of the Northwind’s mail. Note the plane’s tailhook, poised to snatch the line. The postman had to ring only once. On the first attempt, he hooked the line from which the mailbag was suspended. Members of the Northwind’s crew crouch on the ice as they steady the vertical poles which hold the line. 7/12/1953. NARA 26-G-5613

Northwind and USS Glacier (AGB-4), the Navy’s last icebreaker, working ice during the winter 1953 Bearing Sea Expedition. Original caption: “In this solid field of ice in the Bering Sea, the two icebreakers try a tandem method of breaking ice. Ramming, backing, and ramming again, the vessels try forcing their wayside by side in a parallel line.” NARA 26-G-5609

McClure Strait and CGC Northwind. 13 August 1954 – The USCGC Northwind breaks the west-to-east entrance to previously impassable McClure Strait, the ice-locked western entrance to the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. Pushing along the southern edge of the Strait, the icebreaker heads toward Mercy Bay, about halfway to Banks Island. The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind, commanded by Captain William L. Maloney, USCG, made the first passage through McClure Strait from west to east between August 13 – 21, 1954. The Navy icebreaker USS Burton Island, commanded by Comdr. Everett Trickey, USN, executed the first passage through the Strait from east to west between August 11 – 16. Both ships accomplished the historical fete while conducting oceanographic and hydrographic surveys in the Beaufort Sea and McClure Strait areas on a Joint U.S. – Canadian Expedition participated in by scientists from both countries. The U.S. ships were the first to push through McClure Strait, connecting the Arctic Ocean and Viscount Melville Sound. McClure Strait was the only link left unconquered by explorers who for more than 450 years sought the famed Northwest Passage route between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The ships left San Diego on July 12 and returned to Seattle on September 29, 1954. NARA 26-G-5676

The 269-foot cutter also performed standard Alaska patrol tasks, such as holding “floating courts” that roamed from port to port and providing a modicum of military presence in far-away towns as needed.

Original caption: “This is the main street of the far northern little frontier-like town of Nome, Alaska, on the 4th of July 1955. Natives and Servicemen watch a parade that shows a group of sailors from the Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind marching. The icebreaker was at Nome from July 1 to 6, en route to the Arctic with a Navy Pacific Task Force on last summer’s Military Sea Transportation Service’s sealift operations for the “Dew Line” (Distance Early Warning) radar stations. Leaving Seattle July 16 this year for the summer “Dew Line” operations, the Northwind’s crew will not be at Nome to participate in holiday celebrations.” NARA 26-G-5732

USCGC Northwind in Antarctic waters, 16 December 1956. K-21429.

USCGC Northwind and USS Glacier (AGB-4) in Antarctic waters, 26 December 1956. K-21428.

Crew members from U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind (WAGB-282) hold the first pistol tournament ever held in the Antarctic (January 10, 1957). Chilled thumbs pulled the triggers at targets lined up at McMurdo Sound. During the tournament, a light breeze blew down some of the targets. USNS Private John R. Towle (T-AK-240), a U.S. Navy cargo ship, lies to the back. Operation Deep Freeze was from December 1956 to April 1957. Official U.S. Coast Guard Photograph.

Original caption: “A closeup view from the stern of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind shows all four sections and the weatherproof door of her new telescopic helicopter hanger. The aluminum hanger is 67 ft. long, 23 ft. wide, and 21 ft. high. These measurements are gauged with the size of the Coast Guard’s largest helicopter in use – the gas turbine HH-52A “flying boat” helicopter. The icebreaker Northwind which is based in Seattle and works in the frigid Arctic region most of her time is the first American ship to carry this type of hangar. It was previously developed and used by the Canadian Ministry of Transport, however, here, the Northwind is carrying the hangar on an extended mission into the Bering Sea and the Arctic where it will undergo initial cold weather experiments.” 6/17/1963. NARA 26-G-6034

Original caption: “A starboard broadside view of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind shows her newly installed telescopic helicopter hanger in the closed extended position. The icebreaker is seen here en-route to the Bering Sea and the Arctic on an extended mission which will keep her away from her homeport in Seattle for a few months. During that time the hanger will receive initial experience in colder weather operations.” 6/17/1963 NARA 26-G-6033 

In 1965, Northwind pulled another “first.” That July, she conducted an oceanographic survey between Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland and was the first Western vessel to operate in the Kara Sea off the Soviet Union.

Between 1966 and 1989, Northwind hosted a series of Icebreaker Support Section (IBSEC) deployments, each consisting of a pair of Sikorsky HH-52A Seaguards, which picked up a red (officially orange) paint scheme.

USCGC Northwind (WAGB-282) in the ice, circa 1967. Note her retracted hangar with an HH-52 tail poking out. The second Sea Guardian is likey the aircraft taking the photo. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1977. NH 85275.

USCGC Northwind (WAGB-282) nighttime photo, in the ice, circa 1967. Note her extended hangar. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson. NH 85274.

Between 9 June and 22 September 1969, Northwind transited 14,000 miles from the Bering Sea through the Northwest Passage then made it back to Seattle via the same route, the first vessel to conduct both a West-to-East and East-to-West transit of the Northwest Passage in a single season.

From 1973 to 1975 Northwind underwent extensive machinery modernization and electronic modification at the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland, which included landing the rest of her WWII-era heavy armament (she still had a small arms locker and four stowed .50 cal M2s) and picking up the familiar red-hull seen on today’s American icebreakers.

USCGC Northwind breaking ice at Winter Quarters Bay January 1977 via Antarctica New Zealand.

From 1978 to 1989, Northwind was stationed at Wilmington, North Carolina, and used for general ice-breaking, including in the Great Lakes, which her lack of fixed gun mounts kept her under Canadian treaty restrictions. Rather than Bering Sea cruises, she alternated Deep Freeze trips with Arctic East cruises, sailing in Baffin Bay and supporting Thule AFB in Greenland with side trips to Iceland and Norway.

Operation Deep Freeze 80. Antarctica. From left to right, the icebreakers USCGC Glacier (WAGB 4), Northwind (WAGB 282), and Polar Sea (WAGB 11) moored in the ice below Mount Erebus. Photographed by PH2 Jeff Hilton. January 5, 1980. 428-GX-K-129186.

Northwind, 1982, Inglefield Bredning, Greenland Tracy Glacier in the background

Clocking in on the war on drugs at a time when the service was hull poor, on 4 November 1984 Northwind seized the P/C Alexi I off Jamaica for carrying 20 tons of marijuana, becoming the first icebreaker to make a large narcotics seizure.

USCGC Northwind in Baffin Bay on 10 July 1986. USCG Photo.

It was during her 1986 cruise that Northwind assisted in a joint Denmark-U.S. relocation operation, shuttling arctic musk ox around Greenland via her Sea Guards, likely another first.

Seamen move a crated musk ox into position aboard the US Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAGB 282) during a joint Denmark-US relocation operation, 7/10/1986. Note her WWII-era wooden decks and the sex orientation markings on the crates. TSgt Jose Hernandez. DFST8708199

An HH-52A Sea Guard helicopter from the US Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAGB 282) airlifts a crated musk ox to its new habitat during a joint Denmark-US relocation operation, 7/10/1986. TSgt Jose Hernandez. DFST8708196

Northwind outlived her seven sisters. Weather War vets Eastwind and Southwind/Atka, along with the former Navy-owned Staten Island, Burton Island, and Edisto were all scrapped in the 1970s. In the Frozen North, the Canadian Coast Guard’s CCGS Labrador lingered until 1987. Only USCGC Westwind (WAGB-281), who had served the Soviets for six years under Lend-Lease as Severni Polius (North pole), endured, surviving another decade on the salvaged parts of her sisters.

Northwind, “The Grand Old Lady of the North,” was decommissioned on 20 January 1989, just shy of 44 years with the service and 11 months after Westwind was taken out of service. She had no less than 27 skippers and never saw a period of mothballs until she was shipped off in 1990.

After a decade floating in the James River, ex-Northwind was scrapped at International Shipbreakers, Port of Brownsville, Texas in 1999.

Epilogue

Like Northwind, the other members of her class pulled down several “firsts.” For instance, USCGC Eastwind (WAGB-279) was the first Coast Guard cutter of any type to circumnavigate the globe after departing Boston on 25 October 1960 bound for Antarctica and arriving back in Boston 5 May 1961. This was followed up by a similar Antarctic summer cruise by her sistership, USCGC Southwind (WAGB-280) [ex-USS Atka (AGB-3)] in 1968-1969.

While all eight Winds have long been scrapped, their unarmed half-sister, USCGC Mackinaw, which broke ice on the Great Lakes for six decades, is a floating museum in Michigan, and her grandfather, the old now 98-year old Krassin, is preserved at Saint Petersburg.

A bell from Cutter Northwind, perhaps from our icebreaker, is on display behind the Highland County Historical Society building in Hillsboro, Ohio, a town that made such bells for the Navy and Coast Guard.

The bulkhead on Northwind where various IBSEC avdets chronicled their cruises among the icebergs from 1966 to 1989 was removed after the cutter was decommissioned and restored by ATC Mobile personnel (where the IBSEC was stationed) in 1991. The bulkhead art is on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. 

There is also a public FB group on the ship. 

She is remembered in maritime art in the USCG’s collection. 
 

“Northwind” by David Rosenthal. The icebreaker Northwind breaks a pressure ridge in the permanent polar ice pack on its last mission before decommissioning. The mission was to break a path through the ice for the research vessel “PolarBjorn” as far north as possible.

“Arctic Cutter” by Ellen Leelike. The Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind is shown at work doing its specialty.

With the Coast Guard building a new class of Polar Security Cutters, basically modernized and better-armed icebreakers, it would be nice if they brought the old “Wind” names back. 

Specs:

Winds, 1946 Jane’s entry

Winds, 1973 Jane’s entry

Displacement: 6,515 tons (1945)
Length: 269 ft oa
Beam: 63 ft 6 in
Draft: 25 ft 9 in max
Installed power (1945): 6 × Fairbanks-Morse model 8-1/8OP, 10-cylinder opposed-piston engines at 2,000 shp (1,500 kW), each driving a Westinghouse DC electric generator.
Propulsion: (1945) 2 × Westinghouse Electric DC electric motors driving the 2 aft propellers, 1 × 3,000 shp (2,200 kW) Westinghouse DC electric motor driving the detachable and seldom-used bow propeller.
Propulsion (1973): Four 3,000 horsepower DeLaval diesel engines, two GE electric motors
Speed: Top speed: 13.4 knots (1967)
Economic speed: 11.6 knots
Range: 32,485 nautical miles
Complement:
21 officers, 295 men (1944)
13 officers, 2 warrants, 160 men (Post-1967 USCG service)
14 officers, 137 crew + room for 12 scientists and 14 AvDet personnel (Post 1975)
Sensors and processing systems:
Radar:
SA-2, SL-1 (1944, removed 1949)
SPS-10B; SPS-53A; SPS-6C (1967)
Sonar: QCJ-8 (1944-45)
Armament:

(1946)
4 × 5″/38 (twin mounts)
12 × 40mm/60 (3 quad mounts)
6 × 20mm/80 (single mounts)
2 × depth charge tracks
6 × “K” guns
1 Hedgehog
M2 Browning machine guns and small arms (1944)
Aircraft carried: 1 Grumman J2F Seaplane, later two helicopters in telescoping hangar

(1967)
1 x5″/38 single mount
20mm Mk 16 cannons (singles)

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Aging Icebreaker Sets Polar Record

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) underway in the Chukchi Sea, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, at about 10:30 a.m. The 44-year-old heavy icebreaker is underway for a months-long deployment to the Arctic to protect the nation’s maritime sovereignty and security throughout the region. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Cynthia Oldham.

The country’s only heavy icebreaker, U.S Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10), on Christmas Day reached a record-breaking winter Arctic latitude while in the course of a grueling 30-day winter deployment to wave the flag in the increasingly crowded northern seas.

As noted by the USCG:

Polar Star‘s crew navigated beyond 72 degrees latitude shortly before noon Friday before changing course and heading south to continue their Arctic deployment.

“The crew achieved a notable milestone Christmas Day by traversing farther into the harsh, dark winter Arctic environment than any cutter crew in our service’s history,” said Capt. Bill Woitrya, the cutter’s commanding officer.

“Our ice pilots expertly navigated the Polar Star through sea ice up to four-feet thick and, in doing so, serve as pioneers to the country’s future of Arctic explorations.”

With frigid Arctic winds and air temperatures regularly well below zero, Polar Star‘s engineers work around-the-clock to keep frozen machinery equipment running and the ship’s interior spaces warm enough for the crew.

The 44-year-old icebreaker is underway to project power and support national security objectives throughout Alaskan waters and into the Arctic, including along the Maritime Boundary Line between the United States and Russia.

The Polar Star crew is also working to detect and deter illegal fishing by foreign vessels in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and conduct Arctic training essential for developing future icebreaker operators.

The Polar Star’s record-breaking winter Arctic latitude is 72° 11′ N.

It should be noted that Polar Star, while on her regular McMurdo resupply to the Antarctic last year– a mission suspended in 2020 due to the coof– suffered a serious electrical/engineering casualty underway, so it is nice to see that she is doing better this year and is headed back home.

Of course, her crew is having to battle that age-old boogeyman of the Arctic– knocking ice off the ship that accumulated from sea spray to keep topside weight to a manageable level. 

Those who have done the task know first hand it is one of those jobs that looks fun until you do it for about two minutes. 

West Coast layups

The country’s maritime services last week said goodbye to four long-serving warriors, with over 130 years; worth of pennants between them.

USCGC Mellon (WHEC 717) sits in full dress at the pier before a decommissioning ceremony in Seattle on Aug. 20, 2020. USCGC Mellon was a High Endurance Cutter homeported in Seattle and served as an asset in completing Coast Guard missions around the world for 52 years. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Clark)

Besides the 52-year-old Coast Guard Cutter Mellonwho fired 5-inch shells on NGFS in Vietnam and is the only USCGC to have fired a live Harpoon missile— the Navy laid up a trio of Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships last week: USS Ardent (MCM 12), USS Scout (MCM 8), and USS Champion (MCM 4) at Naval Base San Diego.

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Lt. Cdr. Sam Moffett, commanding officer of the Mine Countermeasure ship USS Ardent (MCM 12), delivers remarks during the decommissioning ceremony of the Ardent at Naval Base San Diego. Ardent was decommissioned after nearly 30 years of distinguished service. Commissioned Feb. 8, 1994, Ardent assisted in the recovery of a downed F/A-18C in the North Arabian Gulf and provided support following the bombing of USS Cole (DDG 67) in Port of Aden, Yemen. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin C. Leitner/Released)

The good news is that at least the Coast Guard’s 12 1960s-era 378-foot Hamilton-class cutters have been replaced by 11 (with a possible 12th on the horizon) much more capable 418-foot Legend-class National Security Cutters, the Avengers were supposed to be phased out in favor of LCS-based MCM platforms. Just going to leave that there.

From the Gulf of Alaska to the Gulf of Tonkin, 52 years of service

The Seattle-based Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC 717) moors at U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak’s fuel pier in Kodiak, Alaska, July 10, 2020. Photo by Chief Petty Officer Matthew/USCG

The 378-foot Hamilton-class Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC 717) just completed her final patrol.

As noted by the USCG, Mellon and her “150-person crew left Seattle April 17 to conduct missions throughout the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea. During the patrol, the crew conducted 38 law enforcement boardings, four search-and-rescue cases, and enforced federal regulations governing Alaska’s $13.9 billion commercial fishing industry.”

She returned to her longtime homeport at Seattle earlier this month and is scheduled for decommissioning August 20, 2020, bringing an epic 52-year career to a close.

Laid down in 1966 at Avondale in New Orleans, she commissioned on January 9, 1968.

A modern ship with her helm controlled via a joystick, she carried a 5″/38 DP mount forward, a half-dozen ASW torpedo tubes, sonar, an 80-foot helicopter deck, and used a then-innovative CODAG engineering suite. Contemporary accounts held that she was able to reach a speed of “20 knots in less than 20 seconds and go from full ahead to full astern in less than one minute.”

The Hamilton-class cutters were one of the first naval vessels built with a combined diesel and gas turbine propulsion plant. At the time: “The twin screws can use 7,000 diesel shaft horsepower to make 17 knots, and a total of 36,000 gas turbine shaft horsepower to make 28 knots. The diesel engines are Fairbanks-Morse and are larger versions of a 1968 diesel locomotive design. Her Pratt-Whitney marine gas turbine engines are similar to those installed in Boeing 707 passenger jet aircraft.”

Mellon served regular weather station duty on Ocean Station November in the Northern Pacific– and even had a balloon shelter for such work, in addition to SAR, maritime fisheries patrol, and counter-smuggling duties.

Once, she even got involved in responding to a mutiny on the high seas.

She also went to a real-live shooting war.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office:

Mellon saw extensive service during the conflict in Vietnam. She was twice awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation as part of Task Force 115 (U.S. Navy Coastal Surveillance Force) which maintained close surveillance over 1,200 miles of Vietnamese coastline and 64,000 licensed watercraft.

The task force seized large quantities of war material, preventing it from reaching enemy hands. During her service in the waters adjacent to Vietnam, Mellon also conducted numerous naval gunfire support missions, rescue operations, medical civic action programs, and training programs for Vietnamese military personnel.

She saved lives.

Mellon rescued passengers from the burning Holland-America luxury liner MS Prinsendam off the Alaskan coast in 1980 in conjunction with another cutter, pulling 510 passengers and crew members from lifeboats after they abandoned ship. Remarkably, and in vast contrast to the Titanic, this occurred with no deaths or serious injuries, and all passengers and crew from the Prindsendam accounted for.

Added to this tally over the years were mariners from the doomed Italian supertanker Giovanna Lollighetti, the MV Carnelian, and the downed crew of a C-130 surviving among the frozen scrub of Attu Island.

She held the line

A regular on the Bearing Sea Patrol, Mellon’s sonarmen counted more sonar contacts with Soviet subs in the 1980s than many active-duty tin cans.

Updated for the Cold War, she was given frigate-level armament, trading her 5″ gun for a more modern 76mm OTO Melera Mk.75, picking up more modern air search radars, a “Slick-32” EW suite, and improved AN/SQS-26 bow-mounted sonar. She also got a modicum of anti-air protection from a CIWS and an anti-ship armament of 8 Harpoon cans. The idea was that if the balloon went up, the Hamiltons could easily chop over to add a few more hulls to the “600 Ship Navy” and help out with ASW and convoy duty.

Speaking of which, she was the only cutter in USCG history to fire a live Harpoon, during tests off Oxnard in January 1990.

PAC Ken Freeze, USCG

The Coast Guard certainly got their $14.5 million FY65 original costs out of her, and, as with most of her class, will surely go on to serve an overseas ally for another generation or two.

Her motto is Primus Inter Pares (First Among Equals).

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC 717) crew and an Air Station Barbers Point MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew conduct searches just before sunset 24 miles south of Oahu, March 18, 2019. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. j.g. Joshua Martin/Released)

Aegis Icebreakers?

More info on the new class of three planned Coast Guard Polar Security Cutters has bubbled up.

In short, they will be big boys, at 460-feet long and 33,000-tons. For reference, the Coast Guard’s current 50-year-old icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), is 399-feet long and weighs in at comparatively paltry 13,800-tons.

However, the Polar Sea is a bruiser, packing 75,000 shaft horsepower in her CODAG plant. This allows her to crush up to 21 feet of ice by backing and ramming and cruise through 6-feet of pack at a continuous 3 knots. According to a statement released this week, the new PSC’s will have 42,500 shp but will still meet an 8-foot mark on ice-busting.

Hmmm.

Of note, the Coast Guard’s single medium icebreaker, the 11,000-ton Healy can crack ice up to 10 feet thick.

More from VTH in Moss Point:

As you can see, the design is based on Finnish and German tech that is being used on the (under construction) German research breaker Polarstern II, which is about the same size.

The plan for Polarstern II is a good starting point as that ship includes:

-Maximum 130 persons on board.
-44 person crew living in single and double rooms.
-Normal cruises up to 60 scientists.
-Safety equipment (lifeboats) on each side 100%.
-80 places for 20” Containers (laboratories and storage).
-Seakeeping stabilizer suitable for the transit cruises and station operation.
-Helicopter Deck and Hangar for 2-3 Helicopters.

In short, these big breakers, larger than the planned German ship, could potentially carry a light company-sized landing force with a couple of helicopters.

Currently, the USCG’s cutters just carry a small arms locker with the capability to mount a couple of M2 .50-cals if absolutely needed. The penguins and polar bears have not put up much of a fight in recent years.

That could be changing.

Changes from the design to make the Coast Guard’s new vessel capable of fighting are still being decided. However, according to the USNI, “The ship’s combat system will be derived from the Aegis Combat System, and the Coast Guard is still mulling over the weapons loadout, [USCG Adm.] Schultz told reporters on Wednesday.”

In 2017, Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft said the new icebreakers would be fully weaponized to include canister launched anti-ship missiles.

This was repeated in 2018 when he said:

“We need to look differently at what an icebreaker does… We need to reserve space, weight, and power if we need to strap a cruise missile package on it… U.S. presence in the Arctic is necessary for more than just power projection; it’s a matter of national security… If they remain unchecked, the Russians will extend their sphere of influence to over five million square miles of Arctic ice and water.”

Things could get interesting.

Coast Guard awards new polar icebreaker (I mean Polar Security Cutter) contract

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, Jan. 16, 2017. The resupply channel is an essential part of the yearly delivery of essential supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, Jan. 16, 2017. The resupply channel is an essential part of the yearly delivery of essential supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)

It’s really happening.

After a 40-year drought of polar icebreaking construction for the USCG, they just issued a real contract.

For this:

VTH’s planned Polar Security Cutter

The interesting thing is, it will be built in a swamp right around the corner from me at a facility where I trained the security forces for years. They have built a number of phibs for the Army as well as frigate-sized survey/AGOR types for the MSC/NOAA and the Navy in recent years. As far as I can tell, this would be the largest ship they have ever produced.

Additional footnote: Ingalls, just down the river from VTH, used to build icebreakers back in the 1950s, and they made the largest U.S. Naval breaker, the 9,000-ton USS Glacier (AGB-4).

The contract announcement, issued by the Navy:

VT Halter Marine Inc., Pascagoula, Mississippi, is awarded a $745,940,860 fixed-price incentive-firm contract for the detail design and construction of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Polar Security Cutter (PSC) (formerly the Heavy Polar Ice Breaker). The PSC program is a multiple year Department of Homeland Security Level 1 investment and a USCG major system acquisition to acquire up to three multi-mission PSCs to recapitalize the USCG fleet of heavy icebreakers which have exhausted their design service life. The PSC’s mission will be to ensure continued access to both polar regions and support the country’s economic, commercial, maritime, and national security needs. This contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $1,942,812,266. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, Mississippi (61 percent); Metairie, Louisiana (12 percent); New Orleans, Louisiana (12 percent); San Diego, California (4 percent); Mossville, Illinois (4 percent); Mobile, Alabama (2 percent); Boca Raton, Florida (2 percent); and various other locations (3 percent), and is expected to be completed by June 2024. If all options are exercised, work will continue through November 2027. Fiscal 2019 procurement, construction, and improvement (Coast Guard); and fiscal 2018 and 2017 shipbuilding and conversion (Navy) in the amount of $839,224,287 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the Federal Business Opportunities website, with three offers received. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, District of Columbia, is the contracting activity (N00024-19-C-2210).

Presser:

WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy, through an Integrated Program Office (IPO), awarded VT Halter Marine Inc., of Pascagoula, Mississippi, a fixed price incentive (firm) contract for the Detail Design and Construction (DD&C) of the Coast Guard’s lead Polar Security Cutter (PSC).

The initial award is valued at $745.9 million and supports non-recurring engineering and detail design of the PSC class as well as procurement of long lead-time materials and construction of the first ship. The contract also includes options for the construction of two additional PSCs. If all options are exercised, the total contract value is $1.9 billion. PSCs support a wide range of Coast Guard missions including search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, environmental response, and national defense missions.

The U.S. Coast Guard is the nation’s lead agency responsible for providing assured surface access in the polar regions. This contract award supports the United States’ ability to recapitalize heavy polar icebreaker capabilities that are vital to our nation’s ability to conduct national missions, respond to critical events, and project presence in the polar regions.

“Against the backdrop of great power competition, the Polar Security Cutter is key to our nation’s presence in the polar regions,” said Admiral Karl L. Schultz, Commandant of the Coast Guard. “With the strong support of both the Trump Administration and the United States Congress, this contract award marks an important step towards building the nation’s full complement of six polar icebreakers to meet the unique mission demands that have emerged from increased commerce, tourism, research, and international activities in the Arctic and Antarctic.”

The acquisition of Polar Security Cutters is being jointly managed across the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard through an IPO that leverages the expertise and utilizes best practices across each enterprise to deliver a fleet of highly capable, multi-mission ships in the most cost-efficient and timely manner possible. NAVSEA is the lead contracting authority.

“This contract award reflects the great benefit achieved by integrating the incredible talents of U.S. Coast Guard and Navy acquisition and shipbuilding professionals to deliver best value at speed,” said James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition. “Working with our industry partners, the team identified approximately $300 million in cost avoidances and accelerated the schedule for delivery of this capability to the nation by almost three years. This reflects the urgency in which we are operating to ensure we deliver capabilities necessary to support the U.S. Coast Guard and the nation’s missions in the polar regions.”

Construction on the first PSC is planned to begin in 2021 with delivery planned for 2024; however, the contract includes financial incentives for earlier delivery.

The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy are committed to working together to ensure the success of this program and to deliver the capabilities necessary to meet national defense and homeland security mission demands in the polar regions.

More on the Polar Security Cutter program here.

It should also be pointed out that this means just about every new vessel being built for the Coast Guard is being made inside a 300-mile ride down I-10 along the Gulf of Mexico from Panama City, Florida to New Orleans. Ingalls is producing the large (4,500-ton/418-foot) Legend-class National Security Cutter, Eastern Shipbuilding Group in PC makes the (3,700-ton/360-foot) Heritage-class Offshore Patrol Cutter, Bollinger in NOLA makes the 158-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter, and now VTH has the Polar Security Cutter.

How about 35 equipment casualties within the first 19 days at sea?

170607-N-ZP059-031 PORTLAND Ore., (June 7, 2017) – The medium endurance cutter Alert (WMEC-630) arrives in Portland for Rose Festival Fleet Week. The festival and Portland Fleet Week are a celebration of the sea services with Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guard Members from the U.S. and Canada making the city a port of call. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob G. Sisco/Released)

The Oregon-based U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alert (WMEC 630), a 210-foot Reliance class medium endurance cutter had her keel laid Jan. 5,. 1968, at the Coast Guard Yard, Curtis Bay,. Md., and the cutter was commissioned Aug. 4, 1969. This puts the old girl at 48 years young– and those years have not been kind to her.

She just had to return home just a third of the way through her latest patrol, proving perhaps more in need of help than anyone she could render assistance to.

From the Coast Guard:

The crew departed Astoria Feb. 5 to conduct a counternarcotics patrol in the Eastern Pacific when the ship suffered more than 35 equipment casualties within the first 19 days of their patrol, including malfunctions in the ship’s radar, propulsion and fuel systems.

The ship’s main diesel engine also suffered a crankcase explosion, resulting from a seized bearing on an oil pump, which caused a week-long delay in Panama while the crew inspected the engine. Following the inspection, a decision was made to end the patrol.

“We left on patrol with great hopes and a crew at top performance, thoroughly trained and operationally tested, but one of our main engines broke, sending us home before we got into any operations, which was very disappointing for everyone,” said Cmdr. Tobias Reid, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Alert. “Our engineers did an outstanding job responding to the casualty and put a huge amount of effort into repairing the engine on station, but it requires an extensive overhaul that can only be completed at home.”

The Alert was commissioned in 1969 and is one of 14 remaining 210-foot Reliance-class medium endurance cutters in the Coast Guard’s fleet. Alert is one of three 210-foot cutters stationed on the West Coast – two in Oregon and one in Washington. The cutter supports counter-smuggling missions throughout the Pacific Ocean from the U.S.-Canada border to South America.
The Coast Guard’s fleet of medium endurance cutters is in the process of being replaced by the offshore patrol cutter beginning in fiscal year 2021.

“The offshore patrol cutter will be the backbone of Coast Guard offshore presence and the manifestation of our at-sea authorities,” said Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard. “It is essential to stopping smugglers at sea, for interdicting undocumented migrants, rescuing mariners, enforcing fisheries laws, responding to disasters and protecting our ports.”

Warship Wednesday October 22, 2014 the Overachieving Gresham

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out 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.

– Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday October 22, 2014 the Overachieving Gresham

USRC Gresham;705.  U.S.S. Gresham 1902; photo by A. Loeffler, Tompkinsville, N.Y.

USRC Gresham 1902; photo by A. Loeffler, Tompkinsville, N.Y.

Here we see the gunboat (err. Revenue Cutter) Walter Q. Gresham of the United States Revenue Cutter Service (USRCS) in 1902. This hearty little Great Lakes cutter had a life far removed from the one she was originally designed for.

The USRCS was a branch of the Treasury Department established by an act of Congress on 4 August 1790, (which predates the actual U.S. Navy’s official establishment date however that service uses the older date of the establishment of the Colonial Navy as its basis) and was tasked with counter-smuggling operations in peacetime and serving as a backup to the Navy in war. The USRCS merged with the Lighthouse Service and Lifesaving Service to become the USCG in 1915. But back to the ship.

The USRCS decided in the 1890s to build five near-sisterships that would be classified in peacetime as cutters, but would be capable modern naval auxiliary gunboats. These vessels, to the same overall but concept but each slightly different in design, were built to carry a bow mounted torpedo tube for 18-inch Bliss-Whitehead type torpedoes and as many as four modern quick-firing 3-inch guns (though they used just two 6-pounder 57mm popguns in peacetime). They would be the first modern cutters equipped with electric generators, triple-expansion steam engines (with auxiliary sail rigs), steel (well, mostly steel) hulls with a navy-style plow bow, and able to cut the very fast (for the time) speed of 18-ish knots. All were built 1896-98 at three different yards.

 

USRC McCulloch in full rig. Note that McCulloch is indicative of the five ship class she came from with the exception of having a three-masted barquentine rig where as the other ships, being about 15-feet shorter, had a two mast brigantine auxillary rig. Painting, Coast Guard Academy Museum Art Collection.

USRC McCulloch in full rig. Note that McCulloch is indicative of the five ship class she came from with the exception of having a three-masted barquentine rig where as the other ships, being about 15-feet shorter, had a two mast brigantine auxiliary rig. Painting, Coast Guard Academy Museum Art Collection.

These ships included:

McCulloch, a barquentine-rigged, composite-hulled, 219-foot, 1,280-ton steamer built by William Cramp and Sons of Philadelphia for $196,000.
Manning, a brigantine-rigged 205-foot, 1,150-ton steamer, was built by the Atlantic Works Company of East Boston, MA, for a cost of $159,951.
Algonquin, brigantine-rigged 205.5-foot, 1,180-ton steel-hulled steamer built by the Globe Iron Works Company of Cleveland, OH for $193,000.
Onondaga, brigantine-rigged 206-foot, 1,190-ton steel-hulled steamer built by the Globe Iron Works Company of Cleveland, OH for $193,800.

The fifth ship was the Gresham.

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Launched on 12 September 1896, was a brigantine-rigged 206-foot, 1,090-ton steel-hulled steamer built by the Globe Iron Works Company of Cleveland, OH for $147,800. She carried the name of Walter Quinton Gresham, an epic overachiever.

Maj. Gen of Volunteers, the great and Honorable W.Q. Gresham (1832-1895)

Maj. Gen of Volunteers, the great and Honorable W.Q. Gresham (1832-1895)

Born in 1832 in Indiana, Gresham was a bar-certified attorney and elected state Representative by the time the Civil War broke out. He soon became the 29-year old colonel of the 53rd Indiana and fought at Corinth, Vicksburg, and Atlanta where he was invalided out with a shattered knee and the rank of (brevet) Maj.Gen. of Volunteers. This helped supercharge his political career and he soon became a federal judge appointed by Grant, then Chester Arthur’s Postmaster General and later his Secretary of the Treasury (for a month) before picking up a seat on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals while twice running for the Republican presidential nomination. At the time the gunboat, which carried his name, was ordered, he was serving as Secretary of State in President Grover Cleveland’s Cabinet and died in that office May 28, 1895, hence his name was used to christen the newest cutter. Again, back to the ship…

gresham loc

USRC Walter Q. Gresham commissioned on 30 May 1897 after being accepted by the government three months earlier. While two of these ships were intended for blue-water work on the East Coast (Manning) and West Coast (McCullough), Gresham and near-sisters Algonquin and Onondaga were ordered for Great Lakes service, hence their construction in Cleveland and their homeporting in Milwaukee and Chicago. Since the 200+ foot long cutters were too long to fit through the locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway, they would be landlocked into the lakes their whole life (more on that in a minute).

When commissioned she caused a diplomatic crisis. You see, since these three cutters had a new-fangled torpedo tube and modern guns, the Canadians and their British big brothers objected that the ships were in violation of the 1817 Rush-Bagot Convention and the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842. These two acts limited U.S./British-Canadian arms build-ups along the border region between the two countries and to this day regulate how heavily armed ships can be along the Great Lakes.

http://lighthouseantiques.net/Revenue%20Cutter%20Serv.htm Crew of the Gresham around 1900. Note the old school Donald Duck caps.

Crew of the Gresham around 1900. Note the old school Donald Duck caps.

Well, just 11-months after Gresham‘s commissioning, war broke out with Spain and, as her two blue water sisters were rushed to serve with the Navy, the USRCS decided to withdraw the three lake-bound ships and put them to good use elsewhere. To get them past the locks in the St. Lawrence, they sailed to Ogdensburg, NY, where they were cut in half, shipped through the canal, and rejoined on the Atlantic side. Gresham officially belonged to the Navy 24 March-17 Aug 1898, but she saw no service in that war.

Gresham cut cleanly in two and barged through the St. Lawrence locks. Her other two sisters were subjected to the same fate.

Gresham cut cleanly in two and barged through the St. Lawrence locks. Her other two sisters were subjected to the same fate.

However, the war ended in August 1898, before Gresham could be reassembled. Not wanting to get the Canadians riled up again, the USRCS left Gresham, Onondaga, and Algonquin on the East Coast where they served as any respectable white-hulled cutter of the time did. Algonquin set off for the West Indies and Onondaga moved to Philly while Gresham lived the life of a New England cutter, based in Boston.

She used her popguns to sink derelict vessels found at sea. She patrolled fisheries looking for interloping foreign trawlers and poachers. Nantucket Island was only able to get supplies and mail during especially harsh winters by the use of Gresham as an ersatz icebreaker.

U.S.R.C. Gresham, flagship of the patrol fleet, America's Cup races. Library of Congress photo.

U.S.R.C. Gresham, flagship of the patrol fleet, America’s Cup races. Library of Congress photo.

She served as the official government presence at a number of the fashionable sea races of the time. This led to a collision during a regatta with Sir Thomas Lipton’s beautiful steam yacht, the Erin, in which the Gresham‘s torpedo tube scraped alongside the hull of that fine ship. The fault was all on Lipton’s ship by the way.

Gresham saved mariners in distress, including famously the “palatial” steamship RMS Republic of the White Star Line (yes, the Titanic‘s company) when she collided with the Italian liner Florida near Nantucket and foundered in 1909. That incident was the first time a CQD distress call was issued on the new Marconi radio device. Standing alongside the stricken ship, Gresham along with other ships and the cutters Mohawk and Seneca helped save more than 1200 passengers and crew.

sinking_republic_03.sized

In 1915 she, along with the rest of the cutter service became part of the new U.S. Coast Guard and she was given pennant number CG-1, her name by that time just shortened to Gresham, without the Walter Q. part.

When war erupted, she was transferred to the Navy for the second time in 6 April 1917 and remained in the fleet until Aug. 1919. Her sail rig was removed as were her 57mm and 37mm popguns, her wartime armament was greatly increased and was depth charges were fitted, which added several hundred tons to her weight and several feet to her draught. During the war, she escorted coastal convoys, watched for U-boats and naval raiders, and helped train naval crews. Interestingly enough, her old collision-mate Erin, while serving as the armed yacht Aegusa in the Royal Navy, was lost to a German mine during the war.

Returning to her normal peacetime cutter activities in the Coast Guard, to which was added policing and chasing after rumrunners in the 1920s (for which some water-cooled Brownings were installed) Gresham entered a quiet chapter in her life. Her armament was greatly reduced and by 1922, her torpedo tube was deactivated as all of the Navy’s stocks of the aging Whitehead Mk3 torpedoes were withdrawn from service.

In 1933, Gresham was again assigned to the Navy and was sent to Cuban waters to monitor the situation there. As part of the Navy Special Service Squadron she was used to patrol the Florida Straits during a series of revolts that eventually put Fulgencio Batista in power in Cuba. In this she served with a number of other Coast Guard vessels sheep-dipped to the Navy to include the Unalga for two years, alternating between Key West, Gitmo, and San Juan.

She was decommissioned 19 January 1935 just before her 40th birthday, which is about right for a Coasty hull. She was then sold for her value in scrap metal on 22 April 1935, the last of her five-ship class to remain in the Coast Guard’s service. Cleveland-built sisters Algonquin and Onondaga had been sold in 1930 and 1924 respectively and disposed of. Cramp-built McCulloch, who served with Dewey at Manila Bay, was sunk in a collision 13 June 1917. Boston-built Manning likewise was sold for scrap in 1931. The Coast Guard just did not have use for a bunch of slow old tubs.

Until World War II came along, anyway.

In 1943, the Coast Guard found Gresham still afloat in some backwater somewhere in the Chesapeake and reacquired her, the sole remaining ship of her class. She was old, with 47 years on her hull. She was in exceptionally poor condition– still with her original cranky vertical, inverted cylinder, direct-acting triple expansion steam engine fired by four single-ended boilers fed by coal.

Nevertheless, she could hold a few guns and maybe scare off a U-boat or two so she was bought (sum unknown) on 21 January 1943 and renovated in Baltimore.

Gresham during WWII. Photo from Navsource

Gresham during WWII. Notice her sail rig is long gone and, for the first time, she has a visible hull number. Photo from Navsource.

Two months later she was relatively seaworthy and, armed with a sonar, radar, depth charge racks and guns, placed into commission as the USS Gresham (WPG-85) on 25 March 1943. Assigned to coastal convoy escort, moving from port to port up and down the East Coast, she was not liked very well. Since her best possible speed was just 8-knots, she slowed the convoys down and they often decided to leave Gresham in port rather instead. In these terms, she served as a guard ship in New York for most of her 13-month WWII service.

Decommissioned 7 April 1944 before the war even ended, she was sold for scrap for a second time.

However, she just wouldn’t die.

In 1946, she was being used by one Nicholas D. Allen of Teaneck, NJ, converted to a tug and renamed T. V. McAllister. He apparently wasn’t very successful with Gresham as in turn he sold her to the Weston Trading Co. of Honduras who renamed the elderly vessel, Trade Winds.

She became a coaster and banana boat along the Caribbean, flying a Panamanian flag. Then in February 1947 she quietly became one of the 12 vessels purchased in America by Ha’Mossad Le Aliya Bet to carry Jewish refugees from Europe, many only months out of concentration camps, to Palestine past the British blockade. Appropriately, Gresham was in good company, as at least three of the other vessels, Unalga (who she had served with in the old Navy Special Service Squadron), Northland, and Mayflower, had served in the Coast Guard at one time or another as well.

Her scant 27-man crew consisted mostly of young American Jewish volunteers with former naval and military service under their belt. She was prepared for its voyage to Palestine at Lisbon, Portugal and PortoVenere, Italy. Yehoshua Baharav Rabinowitz was in charge of the work in Portugal and Avraham akai was in charge in Italy. The vessel, under the Hebrew name “Hatikva” (The Hope) sailed from Bocca di Magra, Italy on May 8th 1947 carrying 1,414 Ma’apilim refugees. Israel Rotem was its commander and those accompanying him were Alex Shour and Meir Falik; the radio operator was Nachum Manor. Soon five Royal Navy destroyers, enforcing the blockade on Palestine, were tailing the old tub.

c. May 1947 Hatikva loaded with Jewish refugees Algerine Associates photo from Paul Silverstone's Aliyah Bet Project Aliyah Bet Project http://books.google.com/books?id=psggYctbdlQC&pg=PA105&lpg=PA105&dq=Hatikva+ship&source=bl&ots=SwRWx-nabd&sig=RH27Lu1ARpWj1UoEWq4FTtSzK08&hl=en&sa=X&ei=aBI2VMj-L5SryATovoK4Dg&ved=0CFUQ6AEwCw#v=onepage&q=Hatikva%20ship&f=false

c. May 1947 Hatikva loaded with Jewish refugees Algerine Associates photo from Paul Silverstone’s Aliyah Bet Project Aliyah Bet Project. Note that her mast has been stepped. 

One of these ships pulled alongside and called to the captain, “Your voyage is illegal, and your vessel is unseaworthy. In the name of humanity surrender.”

On May 17, 1947, the Hatikva was forcibly intercepted, rammed, and captured by the destroyers HMS Venus and HMS Brissenden. Upon boarding, RN sailors and Royal Marines used tear gas, rifle butts, and batons to enforce their directives and ordered the ship to Haifa to unload where it sat while the American crew was interned on a British prison ship. (For an excellent in-depth story of this action and the American’s fate, read Greenfield’s, The Jews’ Secret Fleet: Untold Story of North American Volunteers Who Smashed the British Blockade)

With Royal Marines coming aboard. Note her old pilot house, a relic from the 19th century.

With Royal Marines coming aboard. Note her old pilot house, a relic from the 19th century.

Later the Israeli Navy was able to reclaim Hatikva in 1948 after independence, but after sea trials, the desperate organization realized they were not that desperate, and sold her for scrap in 1951.

ex-Gresham, then Hatikva of the Israeli Navy (אוניית_מעפילים_התקוה) around 1948. This is the last known picture in circulation of her.

ex-Gresham, then Hatikva of the Israeli Navy (אוניית_מעפילים_התקוה) around 1948. This is the last known picture in circulation of her.

However, Hatikva/Gresham beat the scrappers once more it seemed. She popped up in Greek ownership in the 1950s and found herself back on the other side of the Atlantic again as an unpowered barge, her superstructure, funnel, and mast removed. She was last semi-reliably seen in the Chesapeake Bay area as late as 1980.

Her ultimate fate is unknown, but she may in all actuality be afloat somewhere in Blue Crab country, hiding out as a houseboat in some back eddy or grounded on a mudflat somewhere. If only boats could talk, Gresham would have had much to say. The Spanish American War, both World Wars, a revenue cutter that was deconstructed then reassembled, gunboat, coast guard cutter, freighter, refugee ship…talk about an epic tale. After all, how many ships have been sold to the breakers and lived to tell the tale not once, or twice, but three times!

The Gresham/Hatikva is well remembered in Israel and in the European Jewish community as a whole. This summer a group of 800 French Jewish students announced plans to recreate the voyage of the historic ship.

As a final note on the ship, Israel’s national anthem is named Hatikva, of course it is about the movement overall, but still; there is a small hatttip to the tiny Gresham in there every time it is played.

And Walter Quintin Gresham himself? He was buried in Section 2 of Arlington National Cemetery a little to the right of the grave of Union cavalry master Phil Sheridan.

The former seaplane tender made cutter USCGC Gresham

The former seaplane tender made cutter USCGC Gresham

In 1947, the Coast Guard took possession of a 311-foot long gently used seaplane tender, USS Willoughby (AGP-9; AVP-57) and renamed her USCGC Gresham (WAVP/WHEC/WAGW-387) in honor of this long serving vessel and remained in service until 1973. However, if the reports of the original Gresham making it to 1980 are true, her namesake outlived her by almost a decade.

Specs

USRC Gresham as built. USCG Historians Office

USRC Gresham as built. USCG Historians Office

Displacement 1,090 t.
Length 205′ 6″
Beam 32′
Draft 12′ 6″
Speed 18 designed, 14.5 kts.by 1930, 8 by 1943
Complement:
1897: 9 officers, 63 men
1917: 103
1919: 71
1943: 125

Armament:
1896: Two 6-pounder 57mm, one 1-pounder 37mm, three .50 cal. machine guns, and one bow torpedo tube
1918: 3 x 4-inch guns; (1500 rounds of ammunition stored in two magazinesfore and aft); 16 x 300-lb depth charges; 4 x Colt machine guns; 2 x Lewis machine guns; 18 x .45 Colt pistols; 15 x Springfield rifles.)
1930: 2 x 6-pdrs RF, 3 x .50-cal watercooled for rumrunners, tube deactivated.
1943: 2x 3″/50 (singles) 4x20mm/80 (singles), 2 depth charge racks, 2 K-gun depth charge projectors, 2 mousetrap depth bomb projectors, QCL-8 sonar, SF-type surface search radar.

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