Tag Archives: old warships

Rafale-ly speaking…

The Hellenic Air Force will begin operating its new (to them) French-made Dassault Rafale fighters after January 19 when a half-dozen aircraft are expected to arrive home at their Tanágra Air Force Base. Two dual-seat Rafales will be joined by four single-seat Rafales for the ferry flight home this week. Ultimately 18 Rafales, at a cost of $2.35B (US), will augment advanced F-16C/D Blk52s, as well as older Mirage 2000-5 models, and fill the gap left with the looming retirement of the country’s last 33 elderly F-4E Phantoms.

The first Rafale of the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) was formally delivered last July. This is one of the 12 refurbished ex-French Air Force Rafale B models configured to the latest F3R standard, that will be delivered to the HAF along with six newbuild fighters by 2023. (Photo: Dassault Aviation/C Cosmao)

The Greeks really like Dassault, having a nearly 50-year relationship with the company that includes ordering 40 Mirage F1s in 1974, then 40 Mirage 2000s in 1985, and finally 15 Mirage 2000-5s in the year 2000.

More Rafales on more carriers?

Speaking of Rafales, the Indian Navy is testing the Rafale M (carrier variant F3-R) at their ashore jump ramp facility in Goa with an eye to buying at least two dozen of the little fighters for use from the country’s new STOBAR indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC), INS Vikrant, set to commission later this year.

Keep in mind that the Indian Navy has had 60 years of continuous fixed-wing carrier operations under their belt, including combat use. 

Rafael M calendar illustration

Odds are, as many as 100 Rafale Ms could be bought if the price is right, with the French birds replacing cranky Russian-made MiG-29K fighters already in use on India’s equally cranky 45,000-ton Gorshkov-class flattop, INS Vikramaditya, and providing squadrons for the new Vikrant and planned follow-on INS Vishal, the latter ship expected in the 2030s. Each of the new carriers is to be capable of holding 36 fixed-wing fighters in addition to ASW helicopters and liaison aircraft.

The Indian Navy has 45 MiG-29KUB carrier-based multirole fighters and was looking to acquire 57 more, with the possibility of building them locally, but that is increasingly unlikely. Plan A right now seems to be fielding variants of the F/A-18E or the French Rafale M instead.

The Indians are also looking at the larger F-18E/F Super Hornet, but, as the IAF already ordered 36 Rafale B/Cs and are standing them up in two operational squadrons this year, don’t hold your breath. However, as the Indians are buying 22 MH-60Rs from Sikorsky, with the blessing of the USN, for ASW use, anything is possible.

A Peek Inside that Rusty Philippine LST Reef Outpost

We’ve talked about the old BRP Sierra Madre (LT-57) several times in the past few years, you know, the Philippine Navy’s reefed landing ship that is used as a desolate outpost against the Chinese military might pushing into the PI’s EEZ. Well, PI SECDEF Delfin Lorenzana posted some images of a special airlift of Christmas dinner to the garrison last week.

While most of us celebrated Christmas with our families, there are others who did not have that chance to do so, like our soldiers who are manning our islands in the West Philippine Sea. So that they may have something to celebrate with, the Philippine Navy airdropped foodstuffs, including lechon [roasted baby pig], for their noche buena.

What can be seen in a light platoon (24~) men worth of Marines and supporting Navy common/corpsmen in the ship’s topside jury-rigged tin and wood structure.

On the bright side, it looks like the ship is intact after Super Typhoon Rai/Typhoon Odette, which claimed more than 400 lives in the archipelago earlier this month. Further, it shows that the vessel is in helicopter range of the PI Navy’s five short-legged AW109E light helicopters, aircraft capable fo carrying FN-made rocket and machine gun pods, especially important because the Chinese have been making it hard to accomplish seaborne resupply.

The PI last May acquired two Leonardo AW159 Lynx Wildcat ASW-capable helicopters, which could prove further use to the fleet.

Basswood of the Pacific

Here we see the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Basswood (WAGL-388, later WLB-388) underway during World War II. Marianas Section, off Victor Wharf, Agana Heights, Guam, late 1945.

Library of Congress photo HAER GU-3-1.

Commissioned on 12 January 1944, Basswood was one of 39 180-foot Balsam-class seagoing buoy tenders built from 1942–1944, specifically being one of the 20 improved Class C (Iris) subvariants. She is fairly well armed to tend navigational aids, with her 3″/50 gun visible pointing over her stern while” Y-gun” depth charge throwers are clearly visible on her starboard side. If you look to her stack– under her mast with an SL1 radar system– you can see two 20mm Oerlikons mounted. Unseen are two Mousetrap ASW rocket systems as well as a QBE-3A sonar suite. Several former Warship Wednesday alumni from the same class got to use those weapons during the war.

Capable of a blistering 13-knots, Basswood would go on to have a long career in the Western Pacific, supporting nuclear weapons testing during Operations Greenhouse (1951), Castle (1954), and Redwing (1956). She also completed three deployments to Vietnam in 1967, 1971, and 1972, earning a trio of both Vietnam Service Medals and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medals.

The Coast Guard Cutter Basswood works a buoy as busy Vietnamese fishermen travel to open sea and their fishing grounds from Vung Tau harbor during her 1967 deployment. The cutter battled monsoon weather for a 30-day tour to establish and reservice sea aids-to-navigation dotting the 1,000-mile South Vietnamese coastline. USCG Historian’s Office photo

Decommissioned 4 September 1998 after 54 years of service, she was disposed of in 2000, eventually scrapped.

Prince of Wales, Repulse Remembered

The preserved bells of the backbone of Force Z, the battlewagons HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse – sunk on 10 December 1941 – have been put side-by-side on display at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth to mark the 80th anniversary of the tragedy.

The bells had spent six decades at the bottom of the Pacific.

(MoD Crown Copyright)

At least 842 men of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines died when the two capital ships were lost to the Japanese air attack off Malaysia – just three days after the shock of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Some 330 men went down with Prince of Wales, 512 with the Repulse.

The bells were recovered 20 years ago by Royal Navy divers – with the full support of survivors – as the wrecks were being plundered by unscrupulous salvagers and souvenir hunters.

“We hope our visitors take a moment to reflect on the enormity of the loss,” said Victoria Ingles, senior curator at the National Museum of the Royal Navy. “Ship’s bells are held in great affection by the crew and it was so important that both were retrieved, with permission, from the wreck sites in 2002. Their display is a fitting tribute to the many lives lost.”

Diving the Forgotten Battlewagon

While everyone is quick to point out that there were eight American battleships in and around Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor, there was actually a ninth– past Warship Wednesday alumni, USS Utah.

Battleship Number 31, USS Utah, at rest in Guatanamo Bay, Cuba, January 1920.

Built as a 22,000-ton Florida-class dreadnought, Battleship # 31 was disarmed of her impressive battery of ten 12-inch guns in accordance with the Washington Naval Treaty in 1931, converted to a radio-controlled target ship, and redesignated AG-16.

Although it was unlikely she would have gotten her teeth back in WWII had she not rolled over and sank following hits by Japanese aerial torpedos, the old Utah was, like Arizona, never fully salvaged. A few years after the attack her hull was partially righted and moved closer to Ford Island, where she remains today. Some 58 members of her crew died during the attack, and a memorial is in place, but it is not open to the public.

A birds-eye view of the USS Utah Memorial with the flag at half-mast. NPS photo

Utah is often described as “The Forgotten Ship of Pearl Harbor.” 

However, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in partnership with the National Park Service – Submerged Resource Center, recently conducted the first-ever virtual interactive live-dive of the USS Utah. The dive included NPS divers and U.S. Navy divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One (MDSU 1), including a 1940s vintage Mark V hard hat rig that is often used to inter remains on Arizona.

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.

Philippines flexing over demands they unreef their ancient LST

We’ve talked in the past about the 2,000-tons of tetanus shots that is the mighty BRP Sierra Madre (L-57), formerly the ex-USS Harnett County LST-821, which has been grounded on Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Reef) in the South China Sea since 1999, serving as a forward base for a squad-sized group of PI Marines and a Navy radioman. The move came as a counterstroke to China’s controversial, and likely unlawful, armed occupation of Mischief Reef— barely 200 kilometers from the Philippine island of Palawan– in 1995.

Well, in recent weeks, the Chinese have aggressively prevented resupply and rotation of the guard force on the Sierra Madre, warning off civilian vessels approaching the condemned LST with water cannons.

Finally, on 22 November, two civilian boats, Unaizah May 1 and Unaizah May 3, were able to tie up next to the Sierra Madre and unload, while a Chinese coast guard ship in the vicinity sent a RIB with three persons to closely shadow the effort, taking photos and videos, acts the Philipines described as “a form of intimidation and harassment.”

To this, China says Ayungin Shoal is “part of China’s Nansha Qundao (Spratly Islands)” and has told the PI to quit the reef and scrap the rusty outpost.

From Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana on China’s demand to remove BRP Sierra Madre on Ayungin Shoal:

Ayungin Shoal lies within our EEZ where we have sovereign rights. Our EEZ was awarded to us by the 1982 UNCLOS which China ratified. China should abide by its international obligations that it is part of. 

Furthermore, the 2016 Arbitral award ruled that the territorial claim of China has no historic nor legal basis. Ergo, we can do whatever we want there and it is they who are actually trespassing.

With that, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief, Lt. Gen. Andres Centino, on Monday said that his leadership would ensure better living conditions of the troops manning the BRP Sierra Madre, refurbishing the vessel in place as a permanent government post. 

Mic drop.

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.

New Eagle for the Eagle

As we have touched on in past Warship Wednesdays, “America’s tall ship,” the United States Coast Guard Barque Eagle (WIX-327) is a 295-foot, three-masted training vessel assigned to the USCGA to serve as a schoolship for future Coast Guard and NOAA officers (as well as a smattering of cadets from overseas allies).

Built by Blohm and Voss in Hamburg, she entered service in the Gorch Fock-class segelschulschiff Horst Wessel in 1936, training the officers for the rapidly expanding Kriegsmarine.

Horst Wessel

Somehow surviving WWII, she was taken over by a USCG crew at Bremerhaven in 1946 and sailed to this side of the Atlantic where she has been active ever since. Today she is both the oldest Coast Guard vessel and the only one on active duty that participated in WWII, albeit under another flag.

She still had holdovers from her wartime service until recently, swapping out her original German-made diesel about 30 years ago for a Caterpillar D399 that was itself upgraded for a more efficient MTU 8V4000 in 2018.

Speaking of upgrades, she has just been fitted with a new figurehead.

Which is at least her fifth…

Her original German eagle figurehead

The massive figurehead was modified to carry the USCG crest in its talons, a more appropriate symbol.

Ditching the original eagle figurehead (which is now in the USCGA Museum), in 1952, the barque received the smaller eagle from the old revenue cutter-turned training vessel Salmon Chase.

Her original German figurehead is on display at the USCGA Museum

Chase’s 1890s era eagle fitted to Eagle. She carried it from 1952-70.

In 1971, it was decided to upgrade the figurehead and preserve the historic one from the Chase. With that, a copy of Chase’s was made of fiberglass and painted gold.

The fiberglass addler

It proved less than resilient and was severely damaged in heavy seas. I mean, it’s fiberglass.

In time for the Bicentennial in 1976, the damaged figurehead was replaced with a new 12-foot long one, carved of Honduras mahogany and weighing almost a ton. Gilded in gold, it served for 45 years and was just removed at the Coast Guard Yard last month.

The figurehead of the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle is seen on a foggy Sunday morning at the Coast Guard Yard, Baltimore, Nov. 17, 2013. The Eagle, a 295-foot barque home-ported in New London, Conn., is a training ship used primarily for Coast Guard cadets and officer candidates. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lisa Ferdinando)

The new figurehead is being fitted at the USCG Yard and should be ready for sea shortly.

Via USCGY

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)


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