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. 28, 2016: From the Lingayen to the FloraBama
Here we see the Catskill-class vehicle landing ship (or Terror-class fleet minelayer depending on how you look at it) USS Ozark (CM-7/AP-107/LSV–2/MCS-2) showing off her stern and high helicopter deck with hanger clearance in 1966.
The Navy in its entire history has only had 12 vessels that carried a Cruiser-Minelayer (CM) designation. These started with the old retyped cruisers USS Baltimore and San Francisco (reclassified in 1919), the converted passenger freighters USS Aroostook (CM-3) and USS Oglala (CM-4) who helped sow the North Sea Barrage; the purpose-built fleet minelayer USS Terror (CM-5) commissioned in 1942; and five other WWII-era freighters and passenger ferries converted to the designation around the same time (USS Keokuk, USS Monadnock, USS Miantonomah, USS Salem, and USS Weehawken).
The two I missed? Well that’s USS Catskill and her sister USS Ozark, which were very simple updates to the Terror design.
Terror, Catskill, and Ozark had all been names of Civil War monitors that were recycled.
The class of 454-foot long/6,000-ton minelayers were fast enough to keep ahead of submarines (20 knots), sufficiently armed enough (4x 5-inchers and a healthy AAA suite) to not need an escort, and room enough for several hundred of the latest sea mines.
Terror was completed 15 July 1942 and rushed into fleet service in her intended role. However, it turned out that purpose-built minelayers were a waste of resources when other ships could be converted and both Catskill and Ozark were modified while still at the builders from their original roles.
Ozark was authorized by Congress on 19 July 1940 as a Fleet Minelayer, CM-7, and laid down at Willamette Iron and Steel Corporation, Portland, Oregon. Her designation was subsequently changed to a Troop Transport (AP-107) in June 1943 and finally to a Landing Ship, Vehicle (LSV-2, with Catskill being LSV-1) before her commissioning 23 September 1944.
Now swelled to some 9,000-tons full load, she was designed to transport a reinforced battalion-sized unit of 80 officers and 788 troops and land them using 31 Army DUKWs from her large vehicle (former mine stowage) deck and a number of LCVPs and 26-foot motor launches.
By November 1944, Ozark was part of Transport Squadron Thirteen warming up in the Solomons for the big push on Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, Philippine Islands.
When the landing started, she was baptized.
The 7 January 1945 marked the first day in the lives of many aboard the Ozark for experiencing visual contact with the enemy. About 1706 that day an enemy aircraft flew at masthead height across the formation pursued by four U.S. Navy fighters, and was shot down seconds later. Much tension was relieved by witnessing that sight. The next day, the 8th of January 1945, proved to be more exciting. About mid-morning a twin-engine Japanese bomber flew out of the sun over the formation and narrowly missed hitting the ship next ahead with its bombs. About dusk the same day Japanese bombers and suicide planes attacked the formation from all points. Several dive bombers were shot down by the Combat Air Patrol. One suicide plane singled out Transport Squadron Thirteen in particular. He circled out of range of the automatic weapons to the port quarter of the formation. Then he started his death plunge. All guns on the port side of the Ozark opened fire. The Kamikaze was headed for the ship on our port beam. Tension mounted. The amount of flak being put up was uncanny, but still the plane headed for its target apparently unaffected. The Ozark’s 40MM and 5″/38 cal. Were nippin at the tail of the plane all the way in its downward plunge. The climax came when a burst at the tail rocked the plane in its path of flight and sent it to a firey end a few feet from the stern of the vessel it had intended to crash.
The next day, 9 January 1945, the formation approached Lingayen Gulf for the assault. The area was frequented by enemy aircraft, suiciding combatant and transport vessels, in a vain attempt to halt the operation. The Ozark landed her personnel and equipment according to plan. Casualties and survivors from damaged and sunken ships were taken aboard and the Ozark left Lingayen Gulf that night with Transport Squadron Thirteen for Leyte Gulf, Philippine Islands.
Then came the invasion of Iwo Jima (Ozark landed three waves of troops there 19 February 1945 and continued logistic support to the beach until 27 February), the Okinawa operation (landing her men on April 1), and more of the same. In mid-August, she took aboard 911 Marines and Sailors from some two dozen ships via breeches buoy in the mid-ocean (!) to be used in upcoming garrison operations in Japan.
She finished the war present in Tokyo Bay during the Surrender Ceremony, 2 September 1945, having landed her troops and received some 970 recovered prisoners-of-war.
Ozark left for Guam and Pearl Harbor directly to take her recovered heroes, many suffering horribly and in need of desperate medical attention, home.
Ozark earned three WWII battle stars in less than 10 months deployed to the war zone.
After the war the remaining minelayers (Miantonomah was sunk by a mine off the coast of France in 1944), were decommissioned and disposed of with only purpose-built Terror, Catskill and Ozark retained– and then only in mothballs.
Ozark was on red lead row in Texas from 29 June 1946 and was struck from the Naval Vessel Register 1 September 1961. However, in a rarity, she was reacquired from the Maritime Administration in 1963 for conversion to a mine countermeasures support ship (MCS) — or mother ship to small minesweeping craft and RH-3A helicopters.
Recommissioned 24 June 1966 with the old monitor USS Ozark ship’s bell, the revamped ship was different. Gone were the DUKWs and the WWII batteries of 20mm and 40mm guns. In their place were added the capability to carry up to 20 36-foot Mine Sweep Launches MSL’s, two minesweeping equipment-carrying LCM’s, and two big Sea King minesweeping helicopters.
As noted by Ed Sinclair, the ships were a sight:
In Long Beach, sailors nicknamed the Catskill “The Mail Ship”. She evidently had so many steadying lines for the MSL’s housed in their davits, which were rolled up and stored in white canvas bags while underway, sailors thought she looked like she was carrying the US Mail.
After recommissioning and shakedown, Catskill became MineFlot1 Flagship and Mine Countermeasures Support vessel for COMinRon 3 vessels homeported in Sasebo, Japan. She deployed to Vietnam 1969-70.
Five other WWII landing ships, the USS Osage (LSV-3), USS Saugus (LSV-4), USS Monitor (LSV-5), USS Orleans Parish (LST-1069), and USS Epping Forest (LSD-4), were given similar conversions to mine countermeasures support ships and designated MCS-3 through MCS-7 respectively.
The thing is, with Vietnam drawing down and mines being seen at the time as a dated weapon not to be used again, the Navy seemingly moved to do away with all things mine related. The grand old USS Terror, decommissioned since 1956 and still comparatively low-milegae, was sold for scrap in November 1971 to the Union Minerals and Alloys Corp. of New York, NY.
Catskill was decommissioned December 1970 and, though she received three battle stars for World War II service and five campaign stars for Vietnam, was quickly disposed of.
Ozark was based in Charleston and spent a quiet seven years on a series of cruises to the Med and South Atlantic.
In 1969, she was part of Task Force 140 that plucked Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins from the drink in the Atlantic after their moon landing. She had previously been used to help recover Apollo 10.
Decommissioned and struck from the Naval Register, 1 April 1974, Ozark was towed to Destin, Florida the next year and anchored there to be used as a target by the Air Force from nearby Eglin and Tyndal.
The other converted landing ship MCS’s 3-7 would all be stricken and disposed of by 1974.
The plucky little MSL’s were sold from the boat lot mole pier in Long Beach, CA in April 1975.
The MCS designation would lie dormant in the Navy until the old helicopter assault ship USS Inchon (LPH-12) would be converted to MCS-12 in 1995 and would be retired in 2004. Today the former landing ship ex-USS Ponce serves much the same role as a laser-equipped floating MCS in all but name in the Persian Gulf.
As for Ozark, she had a few more tricks up her sleeve.
When Hurricane Frederic came barreling into the Gulf of Mexico in September 1979, the old minelayer/LSV, last of either type still in the Navy’s possession, drug her mooring and took to the sea once more, washing up some 30 miles to the East near the Florida-Alabama state line at Perdido Key close to where the current FloraBama bar is located.
She was salvaged by Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 (MDSU-2) in October.
Taken back to Destin against her will, she was lost in 1981 during a live fire event.
Per Mike Green at Navsource:
The ship was unintentionally sunk with a Maverick missile launched from an F-4 “Phantom” from Eglin AFB in 1981. The missile’s warhead entered on her starboard side approximately 13 feet above the waterline, went through 2 decks and exploded above the hull leaving a hole approximately 3 feet in diameter in her hull. The hole in the bottom of the ship wasn’t noticed until the next day when Air Force personnel and Hughes Missile Systems Co. engineers entered the ship for damage assessment. By this time, she was listing at 16 degrees and all personnel were ordered off the ship.
Today the wreck currently lies upright and intact in approximately 330 feet of water, about 30 miles due south of Destin. She is a popular wreck for experienced technical divers.
The Navy has not reused the names Terror, Catskill, or Ozark since the class of minelayers.
For a good in-depth look at these LSVs and small minesweeping craft, check out Ed Sinclair’s archived “Iron Men In Wooden Boats” over at Navsource here (pdf) and for more information about the Terror there is a 62-page album online with snapshots and stories as well as a dedicated website of her own including this great piece of maritime art:
Displacement: 5,875 long tons (5,969 t), 9,000 tons FL
Length: 454 ft. 10 in (138.63 m)
Beam: 60 ft. 2 in (18.34 m)
Draft: 19 ft. 7 in (5.97 m)
Propulsion: 2 × General Electric double-reduction geared steam turbines, 2 shafts, 22,000 shp (16,405 kW)
four turbo-drive 500Kw 450V A.C. Ship’s Service Generators
four Combustion Engineering D-type boilers, 400psi 700°
Speed: 20.3 knots (37.6 km/h; 23.4 mph)
Complement: 481 as commissioned along with space for 850+ embarked troops
LSV Configuration – 31 DUKWS plus LCVPs
MCS Configuration – 20 36′ MSLs plus 2 LCMs
Aircraft two helicopters (MCS Configuration)
Armament: (designed as CM)
4 × 5″/38 caliber guns
4 × quad 1.1 in (28 mm) guns
14 × 20 mm guns singles
4 single 5″/38 cal DP gun mounts
4 twin 40mm AA gun mounts
20 single 20mm AA gun mounts
two single 5″/38 cal DP gun mounts
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