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Warship Wednesday, Mar. 9, 2022: The Chart Maker

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, Mar. 9, 2022: The Chart Maker

National Archives Photo 19-N-34392

Here we see the white-hulled seagull that was the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey’s vessel Pathfinder being converted to a naval vessel, at the Lake Washington Shipyard, Houghton, Washington, on 9 March 1942, 80 years ago today. Note the barge alongside, full of wood paneling torn from the vessel to make it more battle-ready. While this is not a traditional “warship,” it was said that, “The road to Tokyo was paved with Pathfinder’s charts,” which I think deserves some recognition.

Carrying on the name of the Lewis Nixon-designed clipper-bowed yacht that was taken into Naval service for the Spanish-American War then went on to serve the USC&GS for forty years, mapping most of the Philippines for the first time, the above Pathfinder was purpose-built for her survey work.

Laid down at Lake Washington in peacetime– February 1941– she was 229-feet overall, with a DeLaval steam turbine fed by twin Babcock and Wilcox header-type boilers. Just 2,175-tons, this 2,000shp engineering suite allowed the vessel to touch a paint-peeling 14.7 knots on her builder’s trials.

Pathfinder being converted to a naval vessel, at the Lake Washington Shipyard, Houghton, Washington, on 9 March 1942, showing white being replaced with grey. 19-N-34393

Same day as the above. Note her relatively fine stern lines and empty survey boat davits. 19-N-34391

Acquired by the Navy after Pearl Harbor, she was converted and commissioned 31 August 1942, as the haze-grey USS Pathfinder (AGS-1). She picked up a pair of 3-inch guns forward, another pair of 20mm cannons aft, depth charge racks, and two old Colt M1895 “potato digger” machine guns. 

With her warpaint on and teeth put in! USS Pathfinder (AGS-1) off the Puget Sound Navy Yard, 31 August 1942. 19-N-34396

Same day as the above, showing her stern depth charge racks and 20mm Oerlikons. 19-N-34395

Following a short shakedown, she arrived at Funa Futi in the Ellice Islands (today’s Tuvalu) on the day after Christmas 1942.

As noted by DANFS:

For nearly two years Pathfinder operated along the dangerous New Guinea-New Britain-Solomon Islands are as allied land-air-sea forces fought to break the Japanese grip on the area. An isolated reef, an uncharted harbor, a lonely stretch of enemy hold coastline-each presented a different problem. At Bougainville, Treasury Island, Green Island, Emirau, and Guam, advance Pathfinder parties were sent ashore under the noses of the Japanese to work in close cooperation with Allied amphibious elements in laying out harbor charts or surveying inland channels.

She survived no less than 50 bombing raids while in the Solomons in 1943, including at least one in which her gunners bagged enemy aircraft.

On 7 April, while off Guadalcanal, she was attacked by 18 Japanese fighters and dive bombers coming in high and fast. Responding with 11 rounds from her two 3″/50s, 597 rounds from her 20mm Oerlikon, and 202 from her ancient Colt .30-06s, she downed two planes in two minutes. Her only damage was some 7.7-caliber holes in her survey launch.

From her April 1943 War Diary, in the National Archives.

Following charting efforts around New Guinea, Pathfinder was sent back home to California at the end of September 1944 for a three-month refit in which she would pick up even more guns.

Her late-war look. Bow-on shot of USS Pathfinder (AGS-1) off San Francisco, California, 9 December 1944 after her late-war stint at Mare Island. #: 19-N-79507

The same day, stern shot. Note the depth charge racks. 19-N-79508

The same day, 19-N-79505

Same day. Note her twin 40mm singles over her stern, replacing two 20mm Oerlikon. 19-N-79506

Pathfinder was part of the push to liberate the Philippines, assisting with the landings in Casiguran Bay, Luzon in March 1945, where she withstood other air attacks.

Her luck ran out on 6 May 1945 while in “Suicide Slot” off Okinawa. A Japanese kamikaze plane crash-dived into the survey ship’s after gun platform killing one man, starting fires, and setting off ready ammunition. Emergency parties quickly brought the flames under control.

The action resulted in two Silver Stars.

Licking her wounds, Pathfinder remained off Okinawa and by August 1945 was at General Quarters 170 times in four months. She ended her war in a series of surveys among Japan’s home islands posy VJ-Day to assist the Allied occupation.

USC&GSS Pathfinder leading a line of four coast survey ships, circa 1945-46. The next ship astern is unidentified, but third, in a row is the survey ship Hydrographer. Description: Courtesy of Ted Stone, 1977.NH 82197-A

Her 1942-45 Pacific journey, via her War Diary

Epilogue

Arriving at Seattle on Christmas Eve 1945, Pathfinder decommissioned on 31 January 1946 and was transferred to the Commerce Department, being struck from the Navy List on 13 November 1946.

She received two battle stars (Solomons and Okinawa Gunto) for her World War II service. For more information on that period, her war diaries and history are digitized in the National Archives. 

USC&GSS Pathfinder (OSS-30), her guns hung up and her original white scheme reapplied, continued her survey work, only without as much threat from kamikazes, mines, and enemy submarines– although she still had her gun tubs well into the late 1950s!

Pathfinder at anchor, Photographer: Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren, May 1958 Skowl Arm, Alaska. Note her empty gun tubs aft. (NOAA photo)

Pathfinder in Seattle ca. 1961. Her old WWII gun tubs have finally been removed. (NOAA photo)

Retired from NOAA service in 1971, the year after the new organization absorbed the USC&GS, Pathfinder was sold for scrapping to General Auto Wrecking Company, Ballard, WA. in 1972.

Currently, the US Navy still maintains a survey ship honoring the old name, the USNS Pathfinder (TAGS-60), a 4,762-ton ship that has been in commission since 1994.

Specs:

Displacement 2,175 t.
Length 229′ 4″
Beam 39′
Draft 16′
Speed 14.7 kts (trial)
Propulsion: one DeLaval steam turbine, two Babcock and Wilcox header-type boilers, 310psi 625°, double DeLaval Main Reduction Gears 2000shp
Complement: (Navy 1942) 13 Officers, 145 Enlisted
Armament (1944)
2 x 3″/50 dual-purpose gun mounts
4 x 1 40mm gun mounts
two depth charge tracks
two depth charge projectors


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The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

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Warship Wednesday, July 10 Finding the Path

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out 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.

– Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday,  July 10.

pathfinder1

Here we see USC&GSS Pathfinder, a classic ship from another age. Built on the lines of a clipper she lived through three naval wars and served the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey for forty years, mapping most of the Philippines and ending her life as a wreck in her waters. She was built 1897-98 by the Crescent Shipyard at Morris Heights, New Jersey. Her architect was Lewis Nixon, a household name among fast yacht builders at the turn of the century. She was a three deck steel ship of extra strength built for work in the Aleutian Archipelago where strong currents, distances from supply bases required a vessel of considerable power and coal capacity.

She had 15 water tight compartments with dimensions of 196′ 3″ over all, 33′ 6″ beam, 19′ 8″ “depth of hold” and equipped for sea draws 13′. She is brigantine-rigged with some 4,500 square feet of canvas and a single, 10′ diameter 13′ pitch, screw. Her vertical triple expansion steam engines with twenty-eight inch stroke developed 846 horsepower or 1,173 horsepower under forced draft with a speed of 10.5 to 13 knots. Her range was estimated at about 5,000 miles with a bunker capacity of 240 tons of coal. She was entirely steel with three decks.

Although built for the USC&GS, the Spanish-American War intervened in her birth.  In June 1898  the Navy took near-possesion of her and sailed her with a crew of 65 bluejackets lead by USC&GS officers (what today would be NOAA Ocean Service officers) and sailed her to Hampton Roads. There it was envisioned she could be converted to an armed auxiliary cruiser. Before this was done, the war ended and she continued to the Pacific as the USC&GSS  Pathfinder and not the USS Pathfinder in 1899. She spent a year doing coastal survey work along the California, Alaskan and Hawaiian coasts before being sent to the new US possession of the Philippines.

Survey work involved several ship's launches moving in a line along with ashore teams equiped with surveyors tools for making precise measurements. Some of the charts made from surveys done by  Pathfinder are still in use today.

Survey work involved several ship’s launches moving in a line along with ashore teams equipped with surveyors tools for making precise measurements. Without the work put in by this ship on a 40-year mission, the retaking of the Philippines by the US Navy in WWII would have been much harder. Some of the charts made from surveys done by Pathfinder (above) are still in use today.

With no reliable charts of the huge archipelago, the Pathfinder, meant for use in Alaska, spent four decades in the PI, combing every inch of shoreline. By 1910 she had a ‘submarine sentry’– a device which warned the crew when she was shoaling by a series of kites, as well as a refrigeration system and wireless; making her one of the most modern ships afloat.As her original crew retired, they were at first augmented then replaced by local Filipinos.   By 1920 the entire ship, save for a handful of USC&GS officers, were natives.

theb3258
The PATHFINDER in drydock at Kowloon, 1906. NOAA Photo

Over the years she was sometimes pressed into transporting Philippine Constabulary troops and US soldiers to fight against the lengthy insurgency along the islands.

crew with constabulary

The crew at least twice had a run in with pirates, was beached in wild typhoons, dodged the German raider Emden in WWI, and watched nervously as Japanese planes flew dangerously close to her in the 1930s. When World War Two erupted in the Pacific, the 42-year-old converted yacht chopped over to the Navy’s control and she found herself the target of Japanese bombs at Corregidor. Damaged beyond wartime repair, she was beached in a sinking condition and burned so that the Japanese could not salvage her.

Within a year, the USS Pathfinder AGS-1, the first US Navy oceanographic survey ship, replaced her and assumed her proud name. She served until 1972.

usns pathfinder

Currently the US Navy still maintains a survey ship named Pathfinder, the USNS Pathfinder (TAGS-60), a 4,762-ton ship that has been in commission since 1994.

Specs
Length:     196.25 ft (59.82 m)
Beam:     33.5 ft (10.2 m)
Draft:     13 ft (4.0 m)
Depth of hold:     19.66 ft (5.99 m)
Decks:     Three
Installed power:     Triple expansion steam engines developing 846 horsepower or 1,173 horsepower under forced draft
Sail plan:     Brigantine-rigged, 4,500 square feet of canvas
Speed:     10.5 to 13 knots
Range:     5,000 miles
Notes:     Specifically built for Alaska service

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization

(INRO)

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval lore http://www.warship.org/naval.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

I’m a member, so should you be!