Tag Archives: USS Hercules (PHM 2)

Key West ‘foils

In my post Monday about the USS Key West‘s pending decommissioning, and the fact that the city island she is named in honor of is set to celebrate the commissioning next month of a new destroyer (whose namesake doesn’t have any ties to Key West as far as I can tell) I stated there hasn’t been an active duty Navy ship homeported there since the sub base closed in 1974.

Long-time reader Big Marcus quickly pointed out that statement was an error.

Somehow, for reasons I cannot explain, I forgot about Patrol Combatant Missile Hydrofoil Squadron (PHMRON) TWO, which called Key West home from 1980 to 1993.

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington. The insignia for Patrol Combatant Missile Hydrofoil Squadron Two on the hydrofoil USS TAURUS (PHM 3), 1982. Via NARA DN-ST-86-01869

A pet project of ADM Elmo Zumwalt, the U.S. Navy was the point man for a NATO hydrofoil program– spurred by boats such as the Soviet Sarancha type-– in the early 1970s that, between West Germany, Italy, and the U.S., aimed to produce swarms of these potent little fast attack craft that would be particularly useful in the confined waters of the Persian Gulf, Baltic, and Meddeterrian.

Pegasus class PHMs via Jane’s 1973 ed

In 1973, the Soviets were running Project 1240 Uragan (Hurricane), NATO reporting name Sarancha, a 300-ton, 175-foot “rocket cutter” that could make 58 knots on its hydrofoils and carry four SS-N-9 Siren AshMs, an SA-N-4 Gecko Osa-M “Dustbin” SAM system and a 30mm AK-630 mount– a pretty impressive fit for the day! Of course, the Russkis only built one boat in the project, MRK-5, but it did lead to a 12-ship run of follow-on Matka-class (Project 206MR Vikhr) PHMs for use in the Black Sea.

The Pegasus-class PHMs, via the International Hydrofoil Society. Thirty of these could have proved interesting in a conflict where air superiority was assured.

They were crafted with 15 years of lessons learned by the Navy with the one-off hydrofoils USS High Point (PCH-1), USS Plainview (AGEH-1), and USS Tucumcari (PGH-2).

Well, after Zumwalt left the Navy in 1974, the PHM program dropped from a planned 30 vessels to just six, then the Germans dropped out of the program (electing to go with the more traditional S-143 class schnellboot) and the Italians elected instead to go with the smaller (60 ton, 75 foot) Sparviero class boats of which the Japanese also built three copies (the 1-go class).

The new Pegasus class PHMs were built by Boeing, with a big gap between the lead unit’s 1977 commissioning and the follow-on five vessels entering service in 1981-82.

Pegasus on trials

USS Hercules (PHM-2) bow-on. She was a Pegasus-class missile hydrofoil, seen on the cover of a Boeing brochure

Seattle, pegasus class hydrofoil USS Taurus (PHM-3) during her acceptance trials

DN-ST-84-07572 Gas Turbine System Technician Second Class Steve Miller monitors the controls at the engineer’s station board the patrol combatant missile hydrofoil USS Gemini (PHM-6), 1 January 1983

DN-ST-90-09381 The patrol combatant missile hydrofoils USS HERCULES (PHM 2) and USS TAURUS (PHM 3) maneuver off of Key West, Florida.

USS Hercules (PHM-2) and Taurus (PHM-3) 1983

Hydrofoil USS Hercules PHM-2 passes USS Iowa during Northern Wedding 86 DN-ST-87-00313

Hydrofoil USS Hercules, PHM-2 Squadron 2,i n Key West DN-SC-90-09332

Hydrofoil USS Hercules PHM-2 Squadron 2 in Key West DN-SC-87-08290

Hydrofoils USS AQUILA (PHM 4), front, and USS GEMINI (PHM 6), center, lie tied up in port with a third PHM. The Coast Guard surface effect ship (SES) cutter USCGC SHEARWATER (WSES 3) is in the background

Hydrofoil patrol combatant missile ship USS TAURUS (PHM 3) races by. “Navy hydrofoils are regularly used on Joint Task Force 4 drug interdiction missions.”

In 1980, PHM-1 was homeported in Key West where PHMRON 2 would slowly be stood up, to lend their muscle to USNAVSO’s (now Fourth Fleet’s) counterdrug efforts in conjunction with the USCG. Of course, they also did a lot of “orange force” battle group workups for ships in training out of GTMO and Rosey Roads, helped develop the Navy’s fast ship tactics at a time when the Iranians were really sowing their oats, and contributed to Operation Urgent Fury — the 1983 liberation of Grenada– with the latter being the type’s first and last combat use.

They were a core asset of Joint Task Force FOUR (CJTF-4), now JIATF South, when that group was stood up in 1989 at Key West. 

Plus, if things ever got squirrely with the Cubans, the 48 Harpoons and six 75mm guns of PHMRON 2 could likely take out the cream of Castro’s navy in a surface action without having to detail anything more than some F-16s out of Homestead to keep the MiGs away. 

In all, the squadron required just 154 shoreside maintenance and support personnel in addition to the vessels’ crews. All told, about 300 men. 

Although they garnered something like a third of the Navy’s drug busts in the decade they were active, and only cost about a third the cost of an FFG to operate, the entire squadron was sidelined in June 1993 and then shipped to Little Creek for mass decommissioning, with the newer PHMs only having been in service 11 years.

For more on the class, the National Archives has a ton of images, see the presentation by the International Hydrofoil Society, and visit the USS Aries (PHM-5) museum ship in Missouri.

Aries may soon ride again

Back in the 1970s Adm. Elmo Zumwalt came up with the idea that flotillas of small, fast attack craft could help control the coastal littoral in time of war. Used in places like the Baltic and Scandinavian, they could blunt potential Soviet Red Banner fleet amphibious operations if the balloon went up.

The only outcome of this was the six pack of Pegasus-class hydrofoils. Termed “PHM” (Patrol, Hydrofoil, Missile) these stubby 133-foot craft could zip at 51-knots when wide open and, using a Mk 92 fire control system, fire off eight Harpoons and a Mk 75 76mm OTO Melara main gun with a crew of just 21 men (skippered by a LCDR!).

USS Aries (PHM-5) back in her fighting trim

USS Aries (PHM-5) back in her fighting trim

The PHMs were home-ported in Key West, Fla. as Patrol Combatant Missile Hydrofoil Squadron TWO, but were decommissioned as a class on 30 July 1993 after just a decade of service that included a lot of USCG missions and regular UNITAS exercises among others.

The Boeing-built craft were all named after Greek mythological figures: USS Pegasus (PHM 1), USS Hercules (PHM 2), USS Taurus (PHM 3), USS Aquila (PHM 4), USS Aries (PHM-5) and USS Gemini (PHM-6).

Bought back in 1996 for $20,000, sans armament and most of her neat-o gear but still with her propulsion and hydrofoils still largely intact, ex-Aries is the only one of her class saved from the scrapper as a museum ship in Missouri.

Aries at Gasconade Shipyard, looking very neutered (via Waterways Journal)

Aries as she appears today at Gasconade Shipyard, looking very neutered (via Waterways Journal)

Now, after a 20-year saga, the last U.S. Navy PHM will soon be used as both a museum ship and training vessel for The Maritime Academy of Toledo as well as the Ohio Naval Militia.

From Waterways Journal:

After spending 18 years docked on the Grand River at Brunswick, Mo., the former Navy hydrofoil USS Aries is slowly coming back to life.

A group of volunteers from the Ohio Navy and the barge industry have been working on the Cold War naval ship since last November at the Gasconade (Mo.) Shipyard, restoring it for future use as a 21st century maritime training vessel.

The Aries remains tied off at the shipyard at the mouth of the Gasconade River, just up from the wine-laden town of Hermann, Mo., until May 2017, when it is hoped that the ship can be moved under its own power to Cairo, Ill., for drydocking. The Aries would then travel north on the Ohio River to Hebron, Ky., in June for final renovations.

The Rev. Kempton D. Baldridge, chaplain for the Ohio River Region with the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI), Paducah, Ky., said a week-long cadet orientation will likely take place onboard in late July, with a recommissioning ceremony tentatively scheduled for July 30 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Baldridge, who briefly served on the Aries and its five sister ships in the ‘80s as a Navy Reserve chaplain, has helped the Ohio Navy—an organized, all-volunteer unit that has been serving the State of Ohio and the nation since 1896—rehab the vessel by making connections in the marine industry, raising funds and lending a physical hand during the process.

“The day after Aries observes its recommissioning, the vessel will help commemorate the 120th anniversary of the first Ohio Navy training cruise, with a two-week, 902-mile river circuit from Cincinnati to East Liverpool, Ohio, and return,” said Baldridge. “Aries’ crew, which will include a dozen or so maritime cadets, would transit all nine of Ohio’s locks and dams twice, once northbound and once southbound. At least that’s the plan as it stands now.”

More here