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Warship Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020: Hannah on the Beach

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time 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, Feb. 19, 2020: Hannah on the Beach

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, Catalog #: 80-G-304721

Here we see a Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver scout/dive-bomber of VB-80 from USS Hancock (CV-19) flying over two battleships of the invasion fleet, 75 years ago today, during strikes on Iwo Jima on 19 February 1945. The brand-new Essex-class fleet carrier was less than a year old but “Fighting Hannah,” as she was known by her crew, was well on her way to earning a long list of well-earned honors.

One of eighteen Essex-class carriers completed during World War II, CV-19 was the fourth U.S. Navy warship named after Founding Father John Hancock.

Besides being the famous inaugural signator of the Declaration of Independence, Hancock is also a key father of the Marine Corps, having signed the commission of Samuel Nicholas, the Corp’s first officer and Commandant of Marines, inked on behalf of the Continental Congress 28 November 1775, some 18 days after the organization was founded.

The Massachusetts-native and first governor of the Commonwealth would have no doubt approved of the fact that the carrier with his name was built by Bethlehem Steel in Quincy, a city that was his own place of birth in 1737.

Laid down 26 January 1943, the 35,000-ton, 888-foot carrier, a “long-hull” version of the class, was launched 364 days later and commissioned 15 April 1944. In all, she was built in just under 15 months.

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) Launching at the Bethlehem Steel Co. Yard, Quincy, Massachusetts, 24 January 1944. NH 75626

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) In Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, on 15 April 1944. NH 91546

In June 1944, while in the Caribbean, she picked up Carrier Group Seven (CVG-7), composed of a “Sunday Punch” of 36 F6F Hellcats of VF-7, 36 SB2C Helldivers of VB-7, and 18 TBF Avengers of VT-7, which would remain her airwing for the rest of the year.

After shakedown, Hancock joined Halsey’s 3d Fleet at Ulithi on 5 October and was raiding Okinawan and Formosan airfields a week later before shifting to lend a hand in the huge operation that was the liberation of the Philippines.

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) SB2C-3 Helldiver of VB-7 flies below the overcast along the Eastern Coast of Formosa, en route to attack shipping at Kurin Ko, the principal North Coast Port, 13 October 1944. Note the twin gun pod under the plane’s wing, and nickname “Satan’s Angel” by its cockpit. At this time, Hancock’s airwing used an upside-down horseshoe for its tail code. 80-G-281326

Covering Army operations in the PI, she became the flagship of Fast Carrier Task Force 38, 17 November 1944 when VADM “Slim” McCain came on board.

Vice Admiral John S. McCain, Sr. Commander task force 38, in his quarters aboard USS HANCOCK (CV-19). 80-G-294462

Surviving a “severe typhoon 17 December and rode out the storm in waves which broke over her flight deck, some 55 feet above her waterline,” Slim would take Hannah and a collection of her sister ships on an epic voyage through the South China Sea that we have talked about previously. This included sinking numerous Japanese tankers and transports and, along with her sisters, the Katori-class light cruiser Kashii.

Japanese Convoy of tankers and transports hit and left burning by carrier-based planes of task force 38, 15 miles south of Cam Ranh Bay, taken by planes from USS HANCOCK (CV-19), 12 January 1945 80-G-300706

Japanese Cruiser KASHII sinking off the coast of French Indochina after attack by SB2Cs from carriers of task force 38. The ship is in a large convoy of tankers and transports hard-hit in the action, 12 January 1945. Taken by a plane from USS HANCOCK (CV-19) 80-G-300683

By mid-February, Hannah had turned North and was raiding airfields near Tokyo with her CVG-80 air group reportedly downing 83 enemy planes in two days.

Then came Iwo Jima where her aircraft plastered the Japanese naval bases at Chichi Jima and Haha Jima on 19 February.

As noted by DANFS: “These raids were conducted to isolate Iwo Jima from air and sea support when Marines hit the beaches of that island to begin one of the most ‘bloody and fierce campaigns of the war. Hancock took station off this island to provide tactical support through 22 February, hitting enemy airfields and strafing Japanese troops ashore.”

USS HANCOCK -CV-19 and USS WASP CV-18 At Ulithi Anchorage, circa Mid-March 1945. Photographed from USS WEST VIRGINIA #: 80-G-K-3814

Then came more raids on Japan proper and support of the invasion of Okinawa, with CVG-6 aboard. There, she encountered the Divine Wind.

“A suicide plane cartwheeled across her flight deck on 7 April and crashed into a group of planes while its bomb hit the port catapult to cause a tremendous explosion. Although 62 men were killed and 71 wounded, heroic efforts doused the fires within half an hour enabling her to be ‘back in action before an hour had passed.”

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) afire after being hit by a kamikaze attack off Okinawa, 7 April 1945. Note fires burning fore and aft, and TBM Avenger flying over the carrier. Photographed from USS PASADENA (CL-65). 80-G-344876

Casualties are buried at sea on 9 April 1945. They were killed when Hancock was hit by a Kamikaze while operating off Okinawa on 7 April. 80-G-328574

Steaming back to Pearl Harbor for repairs, Hancock was back off Japan running airstrikes by 10 July.

A striking photograph shot by an aircraft off USS Hancock (CV 19) captures an attack against the Japanese battleship Ise. A flight deck is visible on the aft part of the ship reflecting her conversion to a hybrid aircraft carrier. 7/28/1945

Although “Fighting Hanna” did not enter Tokyo Bay until 10 September, her planes flew overhead during the formal surrender on board the battleship Missouri. She earned four battle stars in her short but very busy wartime service.

With the war ending, Hancock, just 16 months old, became a means of transport for Magic Carpet trips, shuttling nearly 10,000 GIs, Marines, and Sailors around the Pacific through January 1946.

A peacetime baseball game on Hannah’s empty deck in 1946.

She then did the same for aircraft for another few months until she was inactivated at Seattle just before her 2nd birthday.

Decommissioned officially on 9 May 1947, Hancock rested at her moorings until the Korean War sparked her reactivation.

Towed to Puget Sound in December 1951, she was given a new strengthened flight deck and updated aircraft handling gear with the addition of blast deflectors to become, what DANFS says was the “first carrier of the United States Fleet with steam catapults capable of launching high-performance jets,” when she finished her Project SCB-27C (Two Seven-Charlie) conversion 15 Feb 1954. On top of this, she received a further SCB-125 update at San Francisco in 1956 which added an enclosed bow and an angled flight deck. Her British-built C11 steam cats were the most advanced in the world at the time.

With this, she was dubbed an attack carrier (CVA-19). After conversion, she was much different in topside profile, a carrier of the jet era. Gone were her myriad of twin 5-inch, quad 40mm guns, and Oerlikons as well as her number three centerline elevator, the latter replaced by one with a deck-edge type of greater capacity. Her primary AAA weapons were new twin radar-controlled 3-inch/50 Mk 22 guns capable of firing 50 rounds per minute. Her island had been reconstructed to fit and operate the more modern radar.

USS Hancock (CVA-19) underway at sea on 15 July 1957. She was then serving with the Seventh Fleet in the western Pacific. There are seven FJ Fury, ten F2H Banshee (two different models); two F7U Cutlass, fifteen AD Skyraider, and three AJ Savage aircraft on her flight deck. Note the corner 5-inch singles and twin Mk 22 3-inchers behind them. NH 97539

Uncle Milty and a new singer named Elvis, or something even held a show on Hancock, the pride of the Navy.

Hannah was even used as a testbed for launching early nuclear-capable Regulus cruise missiles from carriers. The big Vought-built turbojet-powered missile weighed nearly 7-tons and had a 22-foot wingspan. Carrying a W27 warhead– a development of the Mark 27 nuclear bomb for the A-3 Skywarrior and A-5 Vigilante with a 2-megaton yield– Regulus had a 500-nm range on a one-way trip.

The theory was that an unconverted straight-deck WWII Essex— the Navy had a few extras at the time– could be modified to carry 40 or 50 of these missiles in their hangar spaces and serve as a floating Regulus battery.

XSSM-8 Regulus, guided, taken aboard USS Hancock (CVA-19) for a tactical training mission at Naval Air Station, North Island, California, August 1, 1954. 80-G-648762

Being lifted on board 80-G-648764

Elevator and hangar trials on the missile’s railed launcher 80-G-648775

80-G-648767

On deck. Note the JATO booster rockets on the side. 80-G-648792

Launched 17 October 80-G-648793

Then came a new war.

Color photo of USS Hancock (CVA-19) leaves Pearl Harbor on 19 February 1962 with CVG-21 aboard on a West Pac cruise. Photo via USS Hancock (CVA-19) 1963 cruise book available at Navysite.de

An epic photo of catapult crewmen positioning an A-4C Skyhawk for launch, 24 March 1965. The carrier was then operating in Southeast Asian waters. Photographed by PH1 Jean Cote and PHC Robert Moeser. This A-4C appears to be BuNo. 149508. Markings below the cockpit indicate that the plane’s assigned pilot was LCDR Olof M. Carlson. USN 1110178-B

In all, Hancock would complete nine deployments to Vietnam in a day under 11 years, eight with Carrier Air Wing 21 (CVG/CVW-21), and one with CVW-5, a wing typically associated with the much larger USS Midway. The deployments typically ran about eight and a half months, although some were longer.

*21 Oct 1964 – 29 May 1965
*10 Nov 1965 – 1 Aug 1966
*5 Jan 1967 – 22 Jul 1967 (CVW-5)
*18 Jul 1968 – 3 Mar 1969
*2 Aug 1969 – 15 Apr 1970
*22 Oct 1970 – 3 Jun 1971
*7 Jan 1972 – 3 Oct 1972
*8 May 1973 – 8 Jan 1974
*18 Mar – 20 Oct 1975

Hancock’s wings in this period typically consisted of two squadrons of F-8 Crusader “gunfighters,” three attack squadrons of A-4E/F Skyhawks, and dets of RF-8 photo birds, EKA-3B electric Whales, E-1B Stoofs with a roof, and SH-3 helicopters. On her first three deployments, Hannah carried a squadron of A-1 Skyraiders and a det of A-3Bs Skywarriors in place of an A-4 squadron.

A well-worn A-1A Skyraider “Spad” of VA-215, “The Barn Owls,” is brought up to the Hancock’s catapult, while operating off the coast of Vietnam, 6 May 1966. Photographed by Photographer’s Mate Third Class Worthington, USN 1120337

When it came to going air-to-air with the Vietnam People’s Air Force, Crusaders from Hancock earned that dubious distinction first when they tangled with MiG-17s on 3 April 1965.

Via the NNAM: An F-8J Crusader of Fighter Squadron (VF) 211 pictured over the Gulf of Tonkin as it returns to the carrier Hancock (CVA 19) following a combat air patrol. Note the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile on the fuselage mount. During the Vietnam War, VF-211 was known to return to their carrier with AIM-9s missing from their arsenal given the fact that the squadron was credited with shooting down seven enemy MiG-17 fighters in air-to-air combat. Now designated VFA-211, the Fighting Checkmates celebrate their 75th birthday this year, having been established as Bombing Squadron (VB) 74 in 1945.

The shadow of a U.S. Navy RF-8A Crusader photograph recon plane passes near a burning Communist Vietnamese PT boat after it was blasted by U.S. Seventh Fleet aircraft from aircraft carriers USS Midway (CV 41) and USS Hancock (CV 19). This was one of the five PT boats destroyed by U.S. Navy aircraft on April 28, 1965. The boats were spotted in the Song Giang River near the Quang Khe Naval Base (located some 50 miles north of the 17th Parallel) despite heavy camouflage. A total of 58 Navy aircraft (28 strike and 30 support types) took part in the day-long attack. All were recovered safely. USN 711478

VA-55 A-4Fs on the deck of USS Hancock (CV-19) in an undated photograph UA 462.31

Aerial view of the attack aircraft carrier, USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) while operating in the South China Sea, 15 June 1966. Chief Photographer J.M. McClure, photographer USN 1118793

How many jets can you cram on a WWII carrier? USS Hancock (CVA-19) with Carrier Air Wing 21, passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, August 2, 1969, bound for Westpac and her fifth Vietnam cruise

Color photo of A-4F Skyhawks being launched from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CVA-19) for a strike in Vietnam in 1969. The A-4F on the starboard catapult was assigned to Attack Squadron VA-55 War Horses, the one on the port catapult to VA-164 Ghost Riders. Navy photograph from the 1969-70 cruise book.

An F-8 Crusader Fighter Aircraft arrives for a recovery onboard the attack aircraft carrier USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) 13 March 1971 while operating in the Gulf of Tonkin. K-88448

She celebrated 25 years with the fleet.

USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) In San Francisco Bay, California, upon her return from her 1968-1969 deployment to the Western Pacific, 3 March 1969. Crewmen in the formation of “44-69” on the flight deck signify 25 years of service. Photograph by Photographer’s Mate Second Class Winfield S. Frazeur. USN 1141660

Then she celebrated 30 years with the fleet.

USS HANCOCK (CVA-19) With men of VA-55 and crew members in the formation of “44-74” in honor of the ship’s thirty years of service. The photo was taken on 3 January 1974 by PH1 Cook. NH 84727

She would earn 13 Vietnam battle stars along with five Navy Unit Commendations and was present for the endgame in April 1975 when Saigon fell.

Landing her CVW-21 airwing for a final time, she took aboard five Marine helicopter squadrons and flew a mix of 25 CH-46s, UH-1s, AH-1 Cobras, and CH-53s into South Vietnam for Operation Frequent Wind, evacuating American and allied civilians and personnel.

Hancock launched the first helicopter wave of TF76 at 1244 on 29 April. Two hours later, the Marine aircraft landed the U.S. Defense Attaché Office compound in Saigon.

Refugees from South Vietnam debark U.S. Marine Corps Sikorsky CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters of HMH-463 on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CV-19/LPH-19?) during Operation Frequent Wind, before the fall of Saigon. 29 April 1975. Photo by Arthur Ritchie via Navsource. http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/19.htm

In all, Hannah would recover 2,500 souls during the operation and famously ditch several empty South Vietnamese military helicopters over the side to make room for more.

USS Hancock returned from her final West Pac cruise on 20 October 1975 when she sailed under the Golden Gate on her own steam.

In all, Hannah had 26 commanding officers, most of which went on to wear stars. She had fought her way across the South China Sea in WWII from Indochina to Tokyo, launched wonky experimental cruise missiles from her deck, hosted the Pelvis before he was cool, flexed her muscle for Uncle in the Taiwan and Laos crises of the 1950s, and both opened and closed Yankee Station. In the end, perhaps no carrier spent more time in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict than USS Hancock. 

On 12 December 1975, CVW-21, a veteran of eight of Hancock’s Vietnam cruises (and one on sister ship USS Bon Homme Richard), was disestablished and has not been seen since.

On 30 January 1976, Hancock herself was decommissioned and sold for scrap before the end of the year. By the end of 1977, she had been scrapped in Southern California. A veterans’ association is alive and well to keep her memory alive. 

Her bell is on display in front of the ComNavLant Office Building in Norfolk, VA

She is also commemorated both in her WWII configuration and in SCB-125 conversion format in scale models by Trumpeter, Dragon, and others.

Of her sisters, Hancock outlived all in the fleet except the training carrier USS Lexington and 1950s latecomer USS Oriskany. Even with that, the newer Oriskany was laid up just eight months after Hannah. Today, four Essex-class flattops survive as museums in various states of repair: Yorktown, in South Carolina; Intrepid, in New York City; Hornet, in California; and Lexington in Texas. Please visit them.

There has not been a fifth USS Hancock but confusingly the Navy christened USS John Hancock (DD-981), a Spruance-class destroyer, at Pascagoula in 1977. After solid service, that greyhound was decommissioned at age 20 while still young and disposed of by dismantling– but that is another story.

Specs:

USS HANCOCK (CV-19) photographed in 1944 while wearing camouflage pattern 32/3a. The photo is superimposed over a cutaway drawing of the forward hull of a typical “ESSEX” class carrier of that time. Catalog #: 80-G-334743

(As built, via Navypedia)
Displacement: 27,100 tons standard
Length: 888 feet overall
Beam: 93 feet waterline
Draft: 28 feet 7 inches, light
Propulsion:
8 × Babcock & Wilcox boilers
4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines
4 × shafts
150,000 shp
Speed: 32.7 knots
Range: 14,100 nmi at 20 knots
Complement: 2,631 officers and enlisted crew. 3448 total with aircrew and Marine det.
Sensors: SK-2, SC-2, (1 – 2)x SG, SM, 2x Mk 12/22 radars
Armor:
4-inch (100 mm) belt
2.5-inch (60 mm) hangar deck
1.5-inch (40 mm) protective decks
1.5-inch (40 mm) conning tower
Armament:
4 × twin Mk 32 5 inch/38 caliber guns around the island
8 × single 127/38 Mark 24 Mod 11 pedestal mounts, two on each corner
8 × quadruple Mk 1/2 Bofors 40 mm guns
46 × single Mk 4 Oerlikon 20 mm cannons
91–103 aircraft
(1956)
Displacement: 41,200 tons fully loaded
Length: 910 feet overall
Beam: 147′ 6″ feet deck
Draft: 35 feet
Propulsion:
8 × boilers
4 × Westinghouse geared steam turbines
4 × shafts
150,000 shp
Speed: 28ish knots
Complement: 3050 plus aircrew and Marines
Sensors: SPS-12, SPS-8, SPS-10, 4x Mk 25, 4x Mk 35 radars, SLR-2 ECM suite
(Updated in the 1960s to SPS-30, SPS-37, SPN-10 radars, WLR-1, ULQ-6 ECM suites)
Armor:
4-inch (100 mm) belt
2.5-inch (60 mm) hangar deck
1.5-inch (40 mm) protective decks
1.5-inch (40 mm) conning tower
Armament:
8 × single 127/38 Mark 24 Mod 11 pedestal mounts
11 × twin 73″/50 Mk 33 RF AA guns
70-80 aircraft

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The Gray Ghost arrives on Yankee Station

Official Caption: “The biggest and fastest guns operating in the Tonkin Gulf belong to the USS NEWPORT NEWS (CA-148). Her 8-inch/55 caliber rapid-fire guns rake North Vietnamese targets daily during Operation Sea Dragon. The NEWPORT NEWS arrived on Yankee Station in October 1967 to enter combat for the first time in her 19 years, 11 October 1967.”

Photographer, Journalist First Class Willard B. Bass, Jr. USN, Wed, Oct 11, 1967, 1127808 National Archives

Commissioned 29 January 1949, “The Gray Ghost from the East Coast,” was a 21,000-ton Des Moines-class heavy cruiser. The pinnacle of U.S. big-gun cruisers, only eclipsed by the ill-fated Alaska-class battlecruisers, Newport News and her sisters Des Moines and Salem (CA-139) carried nine 8″/55 cal Mk 16 RF guns in three 450-ton triple turrets that used automatic shell handling and loading to produce a rate of fire three times greater than that of previous 8″ (20.3 cm) guns.

They could zip out an impressive 10 rounds per minute, per gun, or 90 x 260lb shells in 60 seconds.

Oof.

Forward 8-inch main guns of the heavy cruiser USS Newport News and spent cases after a mission off Vietnam.

Newport News would fire more than 50,000 shells on her 1967 deployment including one incident on 19 December when she exchanged fire with as many as 28 separate North Vietnamese shore batteries, simultaneously, being bracketed by 300 enemy shells without taking a hit.

Newport News would return to Yankee Station two more times before she was decommissioned in 1975, the last all-gun heavy cruiser in US service. She was scrapped in 1993.

This week, however, a model of the Gray Ghost was moved into the gallery of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum by a contingent of sailors from the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg (CG-64). The model is incorporated into a larger exhibit, “The Ten Thousand-Day War at Sea: The US Navy in Vietnam, 1950-1975.”

The new exhibit opened on Wednesday.

Warship Wednesday: March 9, 2016 Blooming flowers for Agerholm

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: March 9, 2016, Blooming flowers for Agerholm

ASROC anti-submarine rocket armed with a nuclear depth bomb during Operation Dominic in the Pacific, May 11, 1962. USS Agerholm christmas island

Here we see the beautiful water column blossom caused by a 20-kiloton warhead going off just 2.5 miles away from the ship that fired it, the hero of our story, the FRAM’d Gearing-class destroyer USS Agerholm (DD-826). You can note her ASROC launcher amidships deployed with one cell pointed in the general direction of said atomic water dome.

In July 1942 the U.S. Navy, fighting Hitler’s U-boat horde in the Atlantic and Tojo’s Combined Fleet in the Pacific was losing ships faster than any admiral ever feared in his worst nightmare. With that in mind, the Navy needed a lot of destroyers. While the Fletcher and Sumner classes were being built en mass, the go-ahead for some 156 new and improved Sumners— stretched some 14 feet to allow for more fuel and thus longer legs to get to those far off battlegrounds– was given. These hardy 3,500 ton/390-foot long tin cans, the Gearing-class, were soon being laid down in nine different yards across the country.

Designed to carry three twin 5 inch/38 cal mounts, two dozen 40mm and 20mm AAA guns, depth charge racks and projectors for sub busting, and an impressive battery of 10 21-inch torpedo tubes capable of blowing the bottom out of a battleship provided they could get close enough, they were well-armed. Fast at over 36 knots, they could race into and away from danger when needed.

The subject of today’s tale was named after Private First Class Harold C. Agerholm, USMCR, MOH.

Harold C. Agerholm

Harold C. Agerholm

As noted by the NHC, this 19-year-old PFC was a man among men.

His second combat operation began in mid-June 1944, when he landed on Saipan, in the Marianas. On 7 July 1944, when Japanese forces counter-attacked and captured a neighboring position, Agerholm immediately volunteered to help evacuate the wounded. For three hours, he made repeated trips under heavy rifle and mortar fire, single-handedly evacuating approximately 45 causalities. Rushing to help what he thought were other wounded Marines, he was mortally wounded by a Japanese sniper. For his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity,” he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Harold C. Agerholm is buried at Mount Cemetery, Racine, Wisconsin.

While ordered during the thick of the fighting, the ship named after our hero Marine wasn’t laid down until 10 September 1945 at Bath Iron Works in Maine– a full week after VJ Day. Christened by Agerholm’s grieving mother, she was commissioned 20 June 1946. Just four of her class were commissioned after her, and 58 were canceled in the inevitable post-war drawdown.

AA oo AGERHOLM61

Stationed in the Pacific, Agerholm would accomplish a very respectable 21 WestPac deployments over the next 32 years of active duty under 27 skippers, never once passing to the reserves like many other period surface combatants.

Note her amidship torpedo tubes and all three 5-iinch DP mounts

Note her amidship torpedo tubes and all three 5-iinch DP mounts

She earned four battlestars for Korea for which she was forward deployed inside that warzone almost every day between 15 Mar 1951 and 31 Mar 1954 with brief pauses to take on more 5-inch shells, chow, and fuel. She plucked the pilot of an F4U-4 Corsair of VMF-312 from the USS Bataan, Marine 1LT Darrell Smith, from the drink in May 1951; plastered Wonsan and various Nork/Chicom troops with her guns when needed, and basically made herself useful throughout the conflict.

1399409597462

In 1961 she was given a Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM) program upgrade, which consisted of a general overhaul of the 15-year-old ship, getting new sensors, swapping out her surface torpedo tubes for an amidships ASROC launcher, trading her depth charges for triple Mark 32 torpedo tubes for Mark 44 torpedoes, and landing her aft 5-inch mount for a mini-helicopter deck for an OH-50 DASH drone.

USS Agerholm Description: (DD-826) Underway on 18 April 1961, after her FRAM I conversion. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 107129

USS Agerholm Description: (DD-826) Underway on 18 April 1961, after her FRAM I conversion. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 107129. Contrast this with the overhead image above showing her WWII configuration.

Then came Swordfish.

Operation Dominic was a series of 36 nuclear explosions carried out by the U.S. at Christmas Island about 400 miles southwest of southern California during the Spring of 1962. One of these three dozen tests, Swordfish, involved Agerholm launching a nuclear-armed ASROC device into a well-instrumented test area.

The 160-pound rocket was outfitted with a W-44 nuclear warhead with a 10-20 Kt yield range and it is believed it went closer to the high end.

USS Agerholm DD-826 firing a nuclear ASROC, May 1962, Operation Dominic.

Aiming at a target raft 4,348 yards away, the rocket missed its sub-surface zero point by 20 yards and exploded 40 seconds later at a depth of 650 feet in water that was 17,140 feet deep.

However, 20 yards really doesn’t matter that much in nuclear weapons.

Dominic Swordfish spray dome dispersing further

Dominic Swordfish spray dome dispersing further

Swordfish was the only full-service test of a nuclear-tipped ASROC missile and some 120 cameras caught the explosion from all angles.

“The spray dome from the detonation was 3000 feet across and rose to 2100 feet in 16 seconds. The detonation left a huge circle of foam-covered radioactive water. Within two days it had broken up into small patches and spread out for 5 to 8 miles”

This video was declassified in 1997 and shows multiple views of the Swordfish shot, and show just how friggen close Agerholm was.

(Note, the second blast shown on the clip is Operation Sailor Hat on the island of Kahoʻolawe, Hawaii in 1965 in which the light cruiser USS Atlanta and the guided-missile destroyer leaders USS England and USS Dale received a shellacking from three 500-ton charges of TNT high explosive detonated on the shore, staving in some deck houses and sweeping away some antenna.)

After her brush with Atomic history, Agerholm fell back into her normal WestPac cruise schedule, taking midshipmen on summer cruises while showing the flag.

Via Navsource/ Richard Miller, BMCS, USNR (Ret.)

Via Navsource/ Richard Miller, BMCS, USNR (Ret.)

Then came Vietnam and from August 1964 to April 1975 she was extensively involved there. She spent time as a plane guard for numerous carriers in the million-sortie war on Yankee Station.

USS Intrepid CVS-11 refueling the Agerholm July 1967 off Vietnam. Image by Larry Backus via Navsource

USS Intrepid CVS-11 refueling the Agerholm July 1967 off Vietnam. Image by Larry Backus via Navsource

In 1966 while on Yankee Station, Agerholm undertook frequent near-shore naval gunfire support missions and, on 7 May, helped extract PCF42, which was under close fire just 800 yards offshore of Binh Dinh Province, recovering the patrol boat’s forward turret gunner who was hit on the flak jacket by small arms fire. She also came to the aid of USS Forrestal during her terrible 29 July 1967 chain reaction fire.

Gunfire Mission in Vietnam 1969 – by Ltjg Richard Crowe via ussagerholm.org

Gunfire Mission in Vietnam 1969 – by Ltjg Richard Crowe via ussagerholm.org

Agerholm got in lots of gunnery time against Mr. Charles and finished her Southeast Asia experience with eight more battlestars. Scoring another first, on 8 May 1968, she fired the first Rocket Assisted Projectile from her 5-inch guns, cruising near the briefly recommissioned battleship USS New Jersey, who was using her own novel RAPs to reach well inshore.

Dressed for visit Auckland, New Zealand, 1977. Via Shipspotting

Dressed for visit Auckland, New Zealand, 1977. This is our destroyer in the peaceful twilight of her life. Via Shipspotting

Agerholm‘s last action was in assisting with the military evacuation by air of Phnom Penh, Cambodia in the final days of the conflict.

USS Enterprise (CVN-65) departs San Diego, California, 8 April 1978, on her 9th WestPac deployment and returning from her 21st and final WestPac deployment. Photo via Navsource

USS Enterprise (CVN-65) departs San Diego, California, 8 April 1978, on her 9th WestPac deployment and is passing Agerholm, returning from her 21st and final WestPac deployment. Photo via Navsource

The days of WWII-era destroyers in the Navy by that time were numbered as the new Spruance-class was coming on line. Therefore, on the grizzled veteran with a dozen battlestars on her bridge wing was decommissioned on 1 December 1978 and her name struck from the Naval List that same day, sparing her the indignity of carrying it into red lead row.

She was expended in a SINKEX just over three years later

U.S. Navy UGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile hits (and sinks) the target ship USS Agerholm (DD-826), off Point Mugu, California, on 18 July 1982. The Tomahawk was launched from a distance of ca. 320 km from the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Guitarro (SSN-665). U.S. Defense imagery photos VIRIN: DN-SC-83-06574 and DN-SC-83-06575.

U.S. Navy UGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile hits (and sinks) the target ship USS Agerholm (DD-826), off Point Mugu, California, on 18 July 1982. The Tomahawk was launched from a distance of ca. 320 km from the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Guitarro (SSN-665). U.S. Defense imagery photos VIRIN: DN-SC-83-06574 and DN-SC-83-06575.

Her wreck is known

Today she is remembered by a vibrant veterans association.

Agerholm is on display at Rickover Hall, USNA, Annapolis, so to speak, in a 1:24 scale model.

As noted by Atlas Obscura:

This 16-foot long model is a cutaway that shows the exterior on one side, and reveals the complicated interior layout on the other. David Wooley and William Clarke write in Warships and Warship Modeling that “The Agerholm is probably the most detailed model ever built.”

The World War II-era miniature destroyer was pieced together by the Gibbs and Cox Company model shop in the 1940s. The model Agerholm cost $1.4 million at a time when a single family suburban home went for about $7,000.

agerholm img_3076

Of her massive armada of 98 Gearing-class sisterships, 10 survive above water in one form or another including three largely inactive hulls in the navies of Mexico and Taiwan. The others are museum ships overseas except for USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (DD-850) in Fall River, Massachusetts; and USS Orleck (DD-886) in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Please visit these vital floating maritime relics.

One enduring link to the past for Agerholm is VMFA-312, the squadron whose Corsair pilot she saved back in 1951, which is still on active duty. The “Checkerboards” now fly F/A-18s out of MCAS Beaufort. The pilot, two-time DFC winner Darrell Smith, has lived a long life.

Specs:

WWII Gearing layout. Contrast this with her FRAM look as shown frequently above

WWII Gearing layout. Contrast this with her FRAM look as shown frequently above

Displacement: 2,616 tons standard; 3,460 tons full load
Length: 390.5 ft. (119.0 m)
Beam: 40.9 ft. (12.5 m)
Draft: 14.3 ft. (4.4 m)
Propulsion: 2 shaft; General Electric steam turbines; 4 boilers; 60,000 shp
Speed: 36.8 knots (68.2 km/h)
Range: 4,500 nmi (8,300 km; 5,200 mi) at 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)
Complement: 336 as designed
Armament:
As-built:
3 × twin 5 in (127 mm)/38 cal guns
12 × 40 mm Bofors AA guns (2 × 4 & 2 × 2)
11 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons
2 × depth charge racks
6 × K-gun depth charge throwers
10 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
By Korea
6 × 5 in (127 mm)/38 cal guns (in 3 × 2 Mk 38 DP mounts)
6 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 cal guns (2 × 2, 2 × 1)
2 × Hedgehog ASW weapons
1 × depth charge rack
6 × K-gun depth charge throwers
After FRAM
4 × 5 in (127 mm)/38 cal guns (127 mm) (in 2 × 2 Mk 38 DP mounts)
1 × ASROC 8-cell launcher
2 × triple Mark 32 torpedo tubes for Mark 44 torpedoes
1 × Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH)
Variable Depth Sonar (VDS)

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