Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday Sept. 14, 2016: An everlasting Citrus with very long roots
Here we see the Cactus-class medium endurance cutter USCGC Citrus (WMEC-300) lean and mean in her white livery and racing stripe in 1984 off Coos Bay, Oregon. A product of WWII, she would spend a full half-century in U.S. maritime service and is still ticking in Santo Domingo as the flagship of a Caribbean navy.
In 1916 the Revenue Cutter Service and Lifesaving Service were merged to form the Coast Guard, to which the Bureau of Lighthouses was added on 1 July 1939 and as such all U.S. lighthouses, tenders and lightships became USCG installations and ships. The thing is, the lighthouse and buoy tender fleet was a hodgepodge of antiquated single-use vessels to which the Bureau had been looking to replace with a new series of 177-foot lighthouse tenders modeled after the USLHT Juniper, the last vessel designed by the Bureau.
Taking these plans, the Coast Guard made some changes and produced a 180-foot/950-ton single-screw steel-hulled ship that incorporated some new features that the USLHS never needed (an ice-strengthened bow, search and rescue equipment and mission, allowance for armament, et.al). The first of these, USCGC Cactus (WAGL-270) was appropriated for $782,381 on 20 Jan 1941 and laid down at Marine Iron & Shipbuilding Corporation, Duluth, MN on 31 March
In all, some 39 of these hardy ships were built either at Marine or at Zenith Dredge Company very rapidly in three subclasses: the “A” or “Cactus” class, “B” or “Mesquite” class, and “C” or “Iris” class. All ships of the three subclasses have the same general characteristics, but with slight differences, (e.g. the “A/Cactus” class tenders may be differentiated from the other two classes of 180-foot tenders by their unique “A” frame main boom support forward and their large 30,000 gal fuel tanks that allowed an economical 17,000nm cruising range on their gentle diesels.) The last to come off the ways was USCGC Woodbrush (WAGL-407) which commissioned 22 Sept. 1944.
The hero of our story, USCGC Citrus, was laid down at Marine Iron 29 April 1942 and commissioned 15 weeks later on 15 August 1942 for a total cost of $853,987.
After some service on the Great Lakes, she was armed with a single 3″/50 behind her stack, 4 20mm guns, depth charge racks, Mousetrap ASW launchers, and Y-guns and shipped for Alaska Sector, Northwestern Sea Frontier on 15 September 1943, which was only recently liberated from the Japanese. There, she helped support the brand new and revolutionary LORAN system, establishing sites at Sitka, Amchitka, and Attu.
In the heavy seas of the Western Aleutians, she endured storms, primitive Arctic conditions, and the threat of enemy action, coming to the rescue of liberty ships, tugs and landing craft throughout 1944. Citrus spent the remainder of the war conducting ATON, logistics, and vessel escort duties in Southwestern Alaskan waters.
After the war, she was liberated of much of her AAA and ASW armament, but continued working the Alaska beat, stationed at Ketchikan until 1964 and Kodiak through 1979, in all spending 36 years in Alaskan waters. During this time she escorted Soviet fishing trawlers out of U.S. waters, participated in Naval exercises, towed disabled fishing vessels to port, medevac’d injured mariners, searched for missing planes, fought a fire on the Japanese MV Seifu Maru in Dutch Harbor, and rescued 31 from the grounded ferry Tustumena near Kodiak.
During this period tenders were designated WLBs (buoy tenders) and saw all fixed armament landed in 1966, leaving them only their small arms lockers. If deployed for law enforcement missions, 180s would be equipped with four Browning M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns or a similar number of M60 7.62mm GPMGs. Lacking it’s naval piece, the 3-incher Gun Tub served as a lookout perch and occasional storage area for small items including crew bicycles when traveling between ports. Lockers for life jackets and exposure survival suits were later located on this deck, which is encircled by a tubular steel railing.
With the 3-incher and 20mms gone and no need for GMs, Citrus and her sisters also saw a decrease in crew size. As originally built, the ship was manned for wartime duties by six officers and 74 enlisted men for a crew of 80 (1945). In her final years of operation primarily as a buoy tender, Citrus, and her fellow 180s were manned by five officers, two chief warrant officers, four chief petty officers and 37 enlisted men for a total of 48 souls, or about half their original complement.
In Sept-October 1975 she made history when she “helped provide icebreaking escort for 15 tugs and barges in an heroic attempt to get vital supplies to the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay. . .[thereby averting] a delay in the development of the North Slope oil fields which are vital to the national interest of the United States.” Citrus and her crew were awarded the Coast Guard Unit Commendation with the Operational Distinguishing Device.
Three 180s, all over 35 years of age, were painted white, landed their buoy tending gear , picked up a SPS-64(V) surface search radar and RHIB then were used as law-enforcement/SAR platforms during the 1980s to help take the place of older cutters leaving the fleet. These ships were Citrus, Evergreen (WLB-295), and Clover (WLB-292). As such, these three picked up the designation of medium endurance cutters (WMEC).
This led to her transfer to Coos Bay, Oregon for 15 years as a floating lawman.
In perhaps her strangest encounter of her career, the Panamanian-flagged 148-foot MV Pacific Star was stopped by Citrus on 1 January 1985 about 680 mi southwest of San Diego.
From the USCG Historian’s Office:
When the boarding team attempted to board the vessel, the master set the Pacific Star on fire and commenced to scuttle the vessel. In a final act of deterrence, the master turned his vessel and rammed Citrus on the starboard side. The boarding team did get on board and located a large quantity of Thai marijuana in the vessel’s forward hold. As the vessel sank, more than 3,800 pound of marijuana was recovered as it floated to the surface and the seven-man crew was arrested.
Pictures or it didn’t happen:
The rest of her U.S. service was quiet and she was decommissioned 1 September 1994 after 51 years of service, seeing 28 different skippers on her bridge over the years.
Placed on hold for transfer to Mexico, that deal fell through and she was instead sent to the Dominican Republic 16 September 1995 as Almirante Juan Alejandro Acosta (C-456/P301) after one of the founders of the Dominican Navy, where she was rearmed and made the flagship of the Armada de Republica Dominicana.
She was rearmed with a British 4″/45 caliber DP gun (off a decommissioned WWII Flower-class corvette), two single Oerlikon 20 mm cannons (from a decommissioned WWII era American patrol frigate), and four 7.62 mm M60 machine guns. She is used for coastal patrol, navigational aid maintenance, midshipman cruises, humanitarian assistance, naval training exercises, troop transport, and at sea refueling.
As for her sisterships, many have proven to be very long in the tooth:
*Balsam (WLB-62) was decommissioned 1975 and has been used as an Alaskan crab boat ever since
*Cactus (WLB-270) was seized in Kings County Washington as a derelict vessel in 2013 for dismantling.
*Cowslip (WLB-277), Firebush (WLB-393) and Sassafras (WLB-401) were transferred to Nigerian Navy 2002-2003 as NNS Nwamba, NNS Olepu and Obula respectively. All remain in service. Sedge (WLB-402) was also transferred for parts.
*Woodbine (WLB-289) was donated to be a training ship in Cleveland in 1972 and went on to be a fish processing boat in Alaska before being sold for scrap in 2012.
*Gentian (WLB-290) was transferred to Colombia as ARC San Andrés (PO-45) and is still active.
*Laurel (WLB-291) was sold at GSA auction in 1999, ultimate fate unknown.
*Clover (WLB-292) and Evergreen (WLB-295) were decommissioned 1990 and sunk by the Navy as a targets.
*Sorrel (WLB-296) was decommissioned in 1996 and is used as SS Reliance operated by Sea Scout Ship #13 of Stockton, California, showing up in an episode of Dexter.
*Ironwood (WLB-297) saw quite a lot of WWII service and was transferred to the Dept. of Interior as a training vessel in 2000, later disposed of.
*Conifer (WLB-301) and Papaw (WLB-308) were decommissioned 2000 and 1999 respectively and was used for a number of years as F/V Hope and F/V Mersea, part of the disaster relief fleet of Friend Ships, but have since been removed from that organization.
*Madrona (WLB-302) transferred to El Salvador who used her as General Manuel José Arce and subsequently sunk her as a reef.
*Tupelo (WAGL/WLB-303) was decommissioned in 1975 and has spent the past 30 years as a Bering Sea fishing boat, FV Courageous.
*Mesquite (WLB-305) ran aground December 4, 1989 on a reef off the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior while in Coast Guard service and was scuttled for underwater diving preserve.
*Buttonwood (WLB-306) was decommissioned 2001 and transferred to the Dominican Republic’s Navy as Almirante Didiez Burgos, still active.
*Sweetgum (WLB-309) was transferred in 2002 to Panama as SMN Independencia (P401).
*Basswood (WLB-388), Blackhaw (WLB-390) and Mallow (WLB-396) were scrapped in 2000.
*Bittersweet (WLB-389) was decommissioned and transferred to Estonian Border Guard, 5 September 1997 who used her until 2014– she is retained as a museum ship.
*Blackthorn (WLB-391) sank in 1980 in a collision near the Tampa Bay Sunshine Skyway Bridge, resulting in 23 crewmember fatalities. Raised, she was resunk as a reef.
*Bramble (WLB-392) was decommissioned 2003, and has been retained with a mixed degree of success as a museum ship in the Great Lakes.
*Hornbeam (WLB-394) was decommissioned 1999, and lost near Panama as M/V Rum Cay Grace in 2013.
*Iris (WLB-395) and Planetree (WLB-307) were decommissioned after helping with the Exxon Valdez oil spill and sit in rusting quiet in the SBRF, Suisun Bay, CA mothballs fleet, to be disposed of by 2017.
*Mariposa (WLB-397) was decommissioned in 2000 but has been retained by the Navy as a hulk until 2009 and has been spotted in the Seattle area since then.
*Redbud (WLB-398) was transferred to the Philippines as Kalinga (AG-89) in 1972.
*Sagebrush (WLB-399) was scuttled off St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia on 28 April 1988.
*Salvia (WLB-400) was decommissioned 1991 and used as a salvage operations training vessel for U.S. Navy at Little Creek.
*Spar (WLB-403) was decommed 1997 and sunk as a reef in 2004.
*Sundew (WLB-404) was decommissioned 2004, used as a museum for a while, then sold to private interests in 2010.
*Acacia (WLB-406), the last 180 in Coast Guard service, was decommissioned 2006 after 63 years of service and is now a museum in Manistee, Michigan.
*Woodrush (WLB-407) and Sweetbrier (WLB-405) were transferred to Ghana in 2001 where she still serves as GNS Anzone (P30) and GNS Bonsu (P31) respectively, which means “shark” and “whale” in the native lingo.
A veterans’ group for the Citrus survives on Facebook with a series of great images. For more information about the 180s in general, the USCG Historian’s office has a great 73-page report on them here while the LOC has a great series of images from the Planetree, a Mesquite subclass sister.
Length: 180′ oa
Beam: 37′ mb
Draft: 12′ max (1945); 14′ 7″ (1966)
Displacement: 935 fl (1945); 1,026 fl (1966); 700 light (1966)
Propulsion: 1 electric motor connected to 2 Westinghouse generators driven by 2 Cooper-Bessemer-type GND-8, 4-cycle diesels; single screw
Top speed: 13.0 kts sustained (1945); 11.9 kts sustained (1966)
Economic speed: 8.3 kts (1945); 8.5 kts (1966)
6 Officers, 74 men (1945);
5 Officers, 2 warrants, 41 men (1966)
Unknown in DR service, likely at least 50
Radar: Bk (1943); SLa-1 (1945), SPS-64(V) 1979
Sonar: WEA-2 (1945-66)
1-3″/50 (single), 4-20mm/80 (single), 2 depth charge tracks, 2 Mousetraps, 4 Y-guns
(1996, Domincan Republic)
1x 4 inch BL Mk.IX single gun
2x 20mm/80 singles
4x M60 7.62x51mm GPMG
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