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: Feb. 10, 2016, The Long Serving Chinco
Here we see an overhead shot of the Barnegat-class seaplane tender USS Chincoteague (AVP-24). This hardy but unsung vessel would see myriad service in both the Atlantic and Pacific under numerous flags for some 60 years.
Back in the days before helicopters, the fleets of the world used seaplanes and floatplanes for search and rescue, scouting, long-distance naval gunfire artillery spotting, and general duties such as running mail and high-value passengers from ship to shore. Large seaplanes such as PBYs and PBMs could be forward deployed to any shallow water calm bay or atoll where a tender would support them.
Originally seaplane tenders were converted destroyers or large transport type ships, but in 1938 the Navy sought out a purpose-built “small seaplane tender” (AVP) class, the Barnegats, who could support a squadron of flying boats while forward deployed and provide fuel (storage for 80,000 gallons of Avgas), bombs, depth charges, repairs and general depot tasks for both the planes and their crews while being capable of surviving in a mildly hostile environment.
The 41 Barnegats were 2500-ton, 311-foot long-legged auxiliaries capable of floating in 12 feet of water. They had room for not only seaplane stores but also 150 aviators and aircrew. Their diesel suite wasn’t fast, but they could travel 8,000 miles at 15.6 knots. Originally designed for two 5-inch/38-caliber guns, this could be doubled if needed (and often was) which complemented a decent AAA armament helped out by radar and even depth charges and sonar for busting subs.
All pretty sweet for an auxiliary.
The hero of our study, Chincoteague, was laid down on 23 July 1941 at Lake Washington Shipyard, Houghton, Washington. Commissioned 12 April 1943, she sailed immediately for Saboe Bay in the Santa Cruz Islands where the Navy was slugging it out with the Japanese and the Empire was striking back on its own. She was assigned to be the mothership to Patrol Squadron 71’s (VP-71) new PBY-5 Catalinas near the island of Vanikoro.
There, on 16-17 July, she underwent eleven bombing attacks ranging from single airplane strikes to the onslaught of nine bombers at a time. While she beat off many of these, they left their toll.
-At 0738, on 17 July, two bombs missed the ship and landed in the water about 50 feet from the starboard side, detonating a short distance below the surface. Numerous fragments pierced the shell, some below the waterline. Several fires were ignited, including a gasoline fire, but these were effectively extinguished. Flooding through the fragment holes below the waterline reduced the GM of the vessel from about 3.2 feet to about 1.6 feet. In spite of this reduction in GM, the stability characteristics were still satisfactory for keeping the vessel upright in case of some additional damage or flooding…
-At 1150, some four hours later, a small general-purpose bomb* with a short delay in the fuze struck and penetrated the superstructure, main and second decks and detonated in the after engine room. The hull was not ruptured, but the engine room was flooded through a broken 8-inch sea suction line supplying cooling water to the main propulsion diesel engine. As the draft increased, water entered the ship through the fragment holes above the second deck, which had not been plugged effectively. Large free surface areas were created on the second deck…
-At 1420, another bomb landed in the water about 15 feet from the port side, detonating underwater. This did not rupture the hull, but the shell was indented in way of the forward engine room. The forward main engines stopped due to shock, leaving the vessel dead in the water…
Chincoteague was able to get underway, suffered nine dead, and was towed to California for overhaul after just 12 weeks of active service.
Frank Murphy later chronicled this in USS Chincoteague: The Ship That Wouldn’t Sink. As for VP-71, they were reassigned and moved to Halavo, in the Florida Island chain to continue operations there.
Emerging at Christmas 1943 with her repairs effected, her AAA suite was modified slightly.
Returning to the fleet in 1944, she saw heavy duty in the Solomon Islands around Bougainville, the occupation of the Marshall Islands, action in the Treasury Islands, then tended seaplanes at Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Kossol Roads in the Palau Islands, Guam, Ulithi Atoll, and Iwo Jima, earning six battlestars the hard way for her wartime service.
This included supporting the lumbering PB2Y-3 Coronados of VP-13 and the “Black Cat” PBY-5s of VP-91 in 1944, then the huge PBM-3D Mariners of VP-25 the next year.
When the war ended, she poked around Chinese waters into 1946 conducting occupation and mopping up duties.
Like most of her 35 completed sisterships (the other six planned were canceled), she was decommissioned shortly after the war on 21 December 1946 and laid up at the Atlantic Reserve Fleet, Texas Group, Beaumont.
Also, like a number of her sisters (Absecon, Biscayne, Casco, Mackinac, Humboldt, Matagorda, Absecon, Coos Bay, Half Moon, Rockaway, Unimak, Yakutat, Barataria, Bering Strait, Castle Rock, Cook Inlet, Wachapreague, and Willoughby) she was loaned to the US Coast Guard where the vessels were known collectively as the Casco-class cutters, or commonly just referred to in Coastie fashion as “311” class vessels for their oal length.
On 7 March 1949, with her armament greatly reduced, her seaplane gear landed, and her paint scheme switched to white and buff, she was commissioned as USCGC Chincoteague (WAVP-375). She was actually the second such cutter to carry the name, following on the heels of an 88-foot armed tug used in the 1920s.
To be used in ocean station duty, Chincoteague and her sisters were given a balloon shelter aft, and spaces formerly used to house aviators were devoted to oceanographic equipment while a hydrographic and an oceanographic winch were added. For wartime use against Soviet subs, she was later given an updated sonar and Mk 32 Mod 5 torpedo tubes.
Homeported in Norfolk, she spent long and boring weeks on station far out to the Atlantic. This was broken up by an epic rescue in high seas when, on 30 October 1956, Chincoteague rescued 33 crewmen from the German freighter, Helga Bolten, in the middle of the North Atlantic by using two inflatable lifeboats, landing them in the Azores.
By the late 1960s, the Navy was divesting itself of their remaining Barnegat-class vessels as they were getting long in the tooth and seaplanes were being withdrawn. Further, with the new Hamilton-class 378-foot High Endurance Cutters coming online, the Coast Guard didn’t need these ships either.
Nevertheless, someone else did.
Between 1971-1972 Chincoteague and 6 of her sisters in Coast Guard service (Wachapreague, Absecon, Yakutat, Bering Strait, Castle Rock, and Cook Inlet) were transferred to the Navy of the Republic of Vietnam. Chincoteague became RVNS Ly Thuong Kiet (HQ-16) on 21 June 1972.
However, her war service in Vietnamese waters was short-lived.
When Saigon fell in April 1975, she sailed along with Yakutat (RVNS Tran Nhat Duat), Bering Strait (RVNS Tran Quang Khai), Castle Rock (RVNS Tran Binh Trong), Cook Inlet (RVNS Tran Quoc Toan), and Wachapreague (RVNS Ngo Quyen) to the Philippines as a navy in exile filled with not only service members but also their families. Absecon remained behind and served in the People’s Navy for several years.
The Philippine government disarmed the seaplane tenders-turned-frigates and interned them, then finally took custody of them after a few weeks to forestall efforts by the new government in Vietnam to get them back. As the U.S. still “owned” the ships, they were sold for a song to the PI in 1976.
In poor condition, some were laid up and stripped of usable parts to keep those in better shape in service. As such, Chincoteague sailed in Philippine Navy as patrol vessel BRP Andres Bonifacio (PF-7), the flagship of the fleet, for another decade along with her faithful sisters BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (Wachapreague), BRP Diego Silang (Bering Strait), and BRP Francisco Dagohoy (Castle Rock) along for the ride.
The Philippines planned to give these ships new radar systems (SPS53s) and Harpoons in the 1980s but the latter never came to fruition. Despite this, the aft deck which supported seaplanes for the U.S. Navy and weather balloons for the Coast Guard was replaced by a helipad for one MBB BO-105 light helicopter– continuing an aviation tradition even in her old age.
Left in a reserve status after 1985, Chincoteague/Ly Thuong Kiet/Andres Bonifacio was finally withdrawn from service in 1993, her three sisters already sold for scrap by then.
She endured as a pierside hulk used for the occasional training until she was sent to the breakers in 2003, the last of her class afloat. As such, she far outlasted the era of the military seaplane.
The closest thing to a monument for these vessels is the USS/USCGC Unimak (AVP-31/WAVP/WHEC/WTR-379), the last of the class in U.S. service, which was sunk in 1988 as an artificial reef off the Virginia coast in 150 feet of water.
Her name endures in the form of the USCGC Chincoteague (WPB-1320), an Island-class 110-foot cutter commissioned in 1988.
As for the four seaplane patrol squadrons that flew from the Chinco in WWII, (VP-13, VP-25, VP-71, and VP-91) they were disestablished in 1945, 1950, 1946, and 1991 respectively with PATRON91 flying Neptunes and later P-3s during the Cold War.
Displacement 1,766 t.(lt) 2,800 t.(fl)
Length 311′ 6″
Beam 41′ 1″
Draft 12′ 5″
Speed 18.2 kts (trial)
USN Aviation Squadrons
Largest Boom Capacity 10 t.
Radar: SPS-23, SPS-29D
Philippine Navy electronics
Radar: AN/SPS-53, SPS-29D
four single 5″/38 cal
one quad 40mm AA gun mount
two twin 40mm AA gun mounts
four twin 20mm AA gun mounts
one single 5″/38 cal. Mk 12, Mod 1 dual-purpose gun mount
one Mk 52 Mod 3 director
one Mk 26 fire control radar
one Mk 11 A/S projector
two Mk 32 Mod 5 torpedo tubes (later deleted in 1972)
Diesel 2,055 Bbls
Gasoline 84,340 Gals
Fairbanks-Morse, 38D8 1/2 Diesel engines
single Fairbanks-Morse Main Reduction Gears
Ship’s Service Generators
two Diesel-drive 100Kw 450V A.C.
two Diesel-drive 200Kw 450V A.C.
two propellers, 6,400shp
20 Kts max, 8,000 miles at 15.6 knots.
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