Tag Archives: Reliance class cutter

210 Feet of Familiar

Any coastwise American those who earned their sealegs will take one look at this image from the Royal Navy and, while they may not be able to pinpoint which of the Queen’s surface combatants is in the background right off of their head, the profile of the gray warship in the foreground is recognizable as a Reliance-class Coast Guard cutter.

Nice to see a ship that has never been capable of going faster than 18 knots with a bone in her teeth!

For the record, the two ships are Type 23 (Duke class) frigate HMS Kent (F78) and the Sri Lankan Navy’s SLNS Samudura (P261), the latter the former USCGC Courageous (WMEC-622), captured in a pass-ex together in the Indian Ocean as the HMS Queen Elizabeth CGS21 heads back to the UK from a Pacific cruise.

Courageous, built as WPC-622 on the shores of Lake Erie at ASBC in Lorain, Ohio in the mid-1960s, and was commissioned 19 April 1968, making her 54 years old.

This black and white photo shows a newly commissioned Reliance (WMEC-615) with an HH-52 Sea Guard helicopter landing on its pad and davits down with one of its small boats deployed. Notice the lack of smokestack and paint scheme pre-dating the Racing Stripe or “U.S. Coast Guard” paint schemes. She has a 3″/50 forward as well as 20mm cannons for AAA work and weight and space for Mousttraps, a towed sonar, and Mk.32 ASW tubes, although they were never fitted. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Reliance class, originally laid down as patrol craft (WPCs) were the final American maritime vessels equipped from the start with WWII-era 3″/50 manually-laid deck guns. The main feature of the class was their huge helicopter deck– capable of handling the Coast Guard’s version of the HH-3 Jolly Green Giant– and a CODAG engineering plant, a dramatic change from the service’s 255-foot circa 1945 cutters. They cost about $3.4 million per hull, in 1964 dollars.

1973 Jane’s listing

Originally stationed in Puerto Rico then shifted to Cape Canaveral and finally Portsmouth, Courageous spent most of her career running around the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and Florida Straits and was involved in all manner of Coastie-classic duties including putting down a mutiny at sea on a German merchantman (M/V Helga Witt), taking a blazing tanker in tow (Mobile Apex, 1969), hosting international oceanographic and meteorological experiments, pulling hundreds of assorted migrants from “rafts” deep at sea, coming to the rescue of craft at the mercy of the ocean, and, of course, making huge drug busts.

Speaking to the latter, she twice earned the “Bust of the Year” title for 1977’s interception of the Calabres with 240,000 pounds of grass, and 1981’s seizure of the Hermigua carrying another 400,000 pounds of leafy green. Ahh, the old days.

Following a $20 million 1990 reconstruction that gutted and replaced her powerplant, changed her topside appearance, and deep-sixed the 3-inch popgun for a much smaller 25mm MK38 chain gun.

Coast Guard Cutter Courageous (WMEC 622), off Panama City, Florida, 10/11/1993, as she appeared fresh out of modernization with an HH-65 Dolphin on her deck (and a port-a-let on her stern!). USCG photo by DUNN, FRANK PA3

Decommissioned 19 September 2001 after a 33-year career (keep in mind 14 of her sisters are still in active USCG service, hitting the beat regularly on 30-60 day patrols)m she was laid up until 2005 when she was given as military aid to Sri Lanka, entering service as Samudura. Notably, she has had her armament greatly increased, putting a 40mm L60 Bofors in place of the old 25mm mount, adding two twin 23mm AAA guns, and installing four Dshkas on the bridge wings and stern.

And she is still up to her old tricks.

Last March, her crew was responsible for the largest drug seizure in the Sri Lankan Navy’s history of 400 kilos of heroin and 100 kilos of crystal methamphetamine valued at $33.5 million.

Apparently, you can take the cutter out of the Florida Straits but you can’t take the Florida Straits out of the cutter.

Sun is getting low for the 210s

When the 16 Reliance-class medium endurance cutters were ordered in the 1960s, they were the first cutter built as part of the Coast Guard’s post-World War II fleet revitalization and the first new USCG-designed seagoing cutter construction since the 1930s, with the 255-foot Oswego-class cutters and Wind-class icebreakers wartime Navy-oriented designs.

This black and white photo shows newly the commissioned Reliance (WMEC-615) with an HH-52 Sea Guard helicopter landing on its pad and davits down with one of its small boats deployed. Notice the lack of smokestack and paint scheme pre-dating the Racing Stripe or “U.S. Coast Guard” paint schemes. She has a 3″/50 forward as well as 20mm cannons for AAA work and weight and space for Mousttraps, a towed sonar, and Mk.32 ASW tubes, although they were never fitted. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Humble 210-foot cutters, they had a lot of innovation for the period.

As noted by the Coast Guard Historian’s Office, they were the first class of cutter with a combined diesel and gas (CODAC) powerplant that “drove the cutter at speeds of up to 20 knots, so it could tow a 10,000-ton vessel or keep pace with Navy carrier fleets.” Other groundbreaking facets included the first use of air conditioning on a cutter and the first fleet of cutters designed with a flight deck for helicopter operations, a new-fangled device the USGC helped developed in the 1940s.

Built in four yards, 16 Reliance-class cutters joined the fleet in just four years, at a program cost of $54 million ($446M today), which is a deal in any decade.

In the 1980s, the 210s were given a mid-life upgrade in which their CODAC suite became diesel-only with a pair of pitch controlled main diesel engines capable of reaching a max speed of 18 knots, a midship exhaust stack, and her WWII-era armament landed for a 25mm direct-guided Mk.38 and two .50 caliber machine guns. Her flight deck, although shortened due to the new stack, was still capable of carrying and deploying an HH/MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, albeit without a hangar, and running HIFR on larger birds.

Coast Guard Cutter Reliance patrols the Western Caribbean in support of the Joint Interagency Task Force – South October 2014. The cutter’s crew worked with an aviation detachment from the Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron based in Jacksonville, Fla., to detect and interdict suspected smugglers. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Clinton McDonald)

They even appeared in a number of films, with class member USCGC Dauntless (WMEC-624) showing up in the Peter Benchley/Michael Caine vehicle The Island as both a supporting actor and set for the last act of the movie.

(Check out from the 3:21 mark on)

With that being said, the 210s are in their last days and several have been decommissioned and given away as military aid. The aforementioned Galveston-based Dauntless and the Pascagoula-based USCGC Decisive (WMEC-629), the latter of which I toured several times for an article in Sea Classics magazine, transferred to Pensacola in 2017, where the service is gathering the last of the tribe “to better leverage efficiencies gained by clustering vessels of the same class.”

And such, Reliance, which has been based at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the town of Kittery, Maine for the past 32 years, pulled stumps for P-Cola on Monday, set for her last chapter in U.S. maritime service, which will be from P-Cola.

The Coast Guard will soon build the “Heritage”-Class 360-foot Offshore Patrol Cutters, often recycling 210-class cutter names, to replace both the Reliances and the 270-foot Bear/Famous-class cutters.

Or at least that’s the plan, anyway.