Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Patrol Frigate Story -The Tacoma-class frigates in World War II and the Korean War 1943-1953

By David Hendrickson, now available, spring 2011, at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble online, 164 pages paperback, $12.95 plus postage, authographed copies from auther $18.00 including postage. Book is a detailed account of the patrol frigates with accompanying photos, maps and documents

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Index to blog topics

1. Farewell to the Patrol Frigates
2. Patrol Frigates in the North Atlantic
3. Patrol Frigates in the North Pacific/Bering Sea
4. Patrol Frigates in Southwest Pacific - Leyte campaign
5. Patrol Frigate building program 1943-44
6. Patrol Frigates to USSR -1945, returned 1949
7. Patrol Frigates to Royal Navy 1943, returned 1946
8. Origin and configuration of Patrol Frigates
9. Patrol Frigates manned by US Coast Guard WWII

Monday, March 8, 2010

Farewell to the Patrol Frigates

As the war was winding down in the summer of 1945, all frigates remaining in commission, apart from those still under Lend Lease to the Royal Navy and the USSR, were either already established weather ship or soon to be converted. Nineteen frigates were transferred from the Navy to the Coast Guard in the final stages of weather service for the frigates, and in any case, weather ships continued as Coast Guard responsibility beyond the frigate era, which ended in September 1946. In the period from war's end in 1945, frigates could be found on all stations in the Atlantic and in the Pacific from the Marshalls in eastern Micronesia to the Philippines and Guam and north to the Bering Sea. GULF PORT and ORLANDO were converted to weather ships in New York in July 1945, subsequently steaming in tandem to Pearl Harbor before shaping a course for Adak in the Aleutians and serving on Station " J" until May 1946, then departing the Aleutians for Seattle for decommissioning and to the breakers in November 1947. GLADWYNE and MOBERLY were converted in Boston in July 1945 in preparation for steaming to Pearl Harbor and then on to Majuro and Kwajalein in the Marshalls, where they served until making for Pearl Harbor in mid-December for duty in Hawaian waters. GLADWYNE departed Pearl Harbor 2 April 1946 for plane guard duty out of San Francisco until ordered to Seattle for decommissioning and subsequently sold to Mexico on 27 November 1947, serving as the PAPALOAPAN until scrapped in 1965. MOBERLY remained in Hawai, patrolling Weather Station 2, until ordered to Seattle for decommissioning and disposition as scrap in October 1947. EL PASO and RACINE were bound for the Philippines following conversion to weather ships in July 1945. RACINE proceeded to the island of Samar as her duty station, working there until departing for Seattle on 14 April 1946 for decommissioning and later to the breakers in December 1947. The irony of EL PASO's return to Leyte Gulf was that she had not suffered a scratch during action against the enemy, but came close to being lost in a violent typhoon in November 1945. With emergency repairs at Subic Bay and Guam, EL PASO made it to Seattle for belated decommissioning on 18 July 1946 and finally to the breakers in October 1947. It was left to CORPUS CHRISTI and HUTCHINSON, the last frigates to serve on active duty in the Pacific, to complete the long journey from western Australia to California for conversion to weather ships in October 1945 at Terminal Island. CORPUS CHRISTI worked Weather Station "D" out of San Francisco until decommissioned in August 1946. HUTCHINSON made for Seattle and two tours on Station Able, then to San Francisco for plane guard duty until decommissioning in September 1946. She went to Mexico in November 1947 and served in the Mexican Navy as the CALIFORNIA.

As quickly as the Navy decommissioned the Atlantic weather ships, European nations geared up for acquiring needed weather ships from the laid up list. SHEBOYGAN went to Belguim in March 1947, ABILENE and FORSYTH to the Netherlands in May and July 1947. When France agreed to maintain two of the eastern Atlantic stations, four frigates were purchased in March 1947 and reconditioned in New Orleans before making for Brest and final preparation as meterological vessels. The four new French weather frigates were LAPLACE (ex-LORAIN), MERMOZ (ex-MUSKEGON), BRIX (ex-MANITOWOC) and VERRIER (ex- EMPORIA). The four served the French Navy until 1952, all but LAPLACE, lost on 16 September 1950 by the explosion of a long embeded German mine in fifteen fathoms of water while anchored off St Malo, France.

Colombia acquired three frigates, GROTON bought at disposal by the State Department, 26 March 1947, and BISBEE and BURLINGTON acquired at Yokosuka, Japan. All three served in the Korean conflict flying Colombian colors but under US Navy orders. ALMIRANTE PACILLA (ex-GROTON) was scrapped in 1965. CAPITAN TONO (ex-BISBEE) and ALMIRANTE BIRON (ex-BURLINGTON) went to the breakers in 1962.

The return of the vessels loaned to the Soviet Union at Cold Bay under Project Hula in summer 1945, became a sticky issue with growing strained relations berween the two nations. An agreement was not reached until 1948, when the Soviets announced approximate dates for return of the frigates. In October and November 1949, twenty-seven frigates, less ex-BELFAST reported a total loss from storm and beaching damage, discarded their EK numbers and returned to the US Navy at Yokosuka, Japan. The Korean War was seven months away. North Korean troops poured across the 38th Parallel on 25 June 1950 and the war was on. In the face of a badly depleted fleet, the frigates moored close to the scene of war became immediate candidates for reactivation. Thirteen were chosen - five Kaiser products, TACOMA, SAUSALITO, ALBUQUERQUE, EVERETT, HOQUIAM; four Consolidated Steel ships, GLENDALE, GALLUP, BISBEE, BURLINGTON; four Great Lakes craft, NEWPORT, BAYONNE, EVANSVILLE, GLOUCESTER. An excess of forty battle stars were earned by the thirteen frigates by the time EVERETT, the last to leave the fleet, was decommissioned on 10 March 1953. MUSKOGEE and ROCKFORD were loaned to the Republic of Korea Navy in October 1950. All twenty-seven of the former Lend-Lease frigates, except for BISBEE and BURLINGTON that went to Colombia, were ultimately transferred to Asian allies - eighteen to Japan, five to the Republic of Korea, and two to Thailand. The former trouble-plagued TACOMA served the ROK Navy as TAEDONG (PF-63) until 28 February 1973. She was struck from the Navy list on 2 April 1973 and donated to the ROK Navy as a museum and training ship. All twenty-seven frigates flying the flags of Japan, Korea and Thailand sailed respective coastal waters well into the 1960s and beyond. As late as the 1990s the RTNS TACHIN ( ex-GLENDALE) and RTNS PRASAE ( ex-GALLUP) were still flying the colors of the Royal Thai Navy.

All twenty-one colony-class frigates loaned to Britain in 1943 were returned in 1946, moored in the James River and sent to the breakers in 1947. Navy manned ASHVILLE and NATCHEZ were sold to Argentina and the Domincan Republic in 1946 and 1947 respectively. EUGENE, GRAND ISLAND and PEORIA went to then friendly Cuba in 1947. Among those sold for scrap in 1947 not earlier noted were ORANGE, BROWNSVILLE, GRAND FORKS and MILLEDGEVILLE, The US Navy could finally breath a sigh of relief, a gang of ships never quite accepted by Navy brass, parcelled off to the Coast Guard during World War II, a few later briefly serving in the Korean War and the last of them off to the breakers or in foreign hands scattered around the world.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Patrol Frigates in the North Atlantic

Of the forty-five frigates built in six the Great Lakes yards, all but the four that joined the Seventh Fleet in the South Pacific served in the Atlantic and adjacent waters. The greatest number, nineteen, were converted to weather ships during post-shakedown availability. Weather ships were identified by the box affair or "hanger" for inflating weather balloons that replaced the aft 3-inch gun. Weather patrol in the North Atlantic was a duty that tried a sailor's soul. Working out of frigid and barren Argentia, Newfoundland, often returning to Argentia in winter sheathed in ice to the point of instability, and only brief periods of availability to look forward to in Boston or Bermuda for storm inflicted repairs, was a form of sea duty that no sailor in the Pacific would have traded for. North Atlantic weather duty had a debilitating psychological quality to it (perhaps more so aboard EMPORIA than others -- six COs from October 1944 to July 1946.) EMPORIA lost a watch stander washed overboard from a mid-ship 40mm gun tub in a violent Christmas eve storm, December 1944. Storm damage took its toll on weather ships to the extent that DAVENPORT following severe storm damage in October 1945 was ordered to report to Commandant First Naval District for disposition. On patrol Station 2 at 58 degrees N - 37 dgrees W in November 1944, MUSKEGON took a pounding for fifteen days with winds at times recorded at 80 knots. The frigate was swept by a massive wave on the 1st of December causing extensive damage subject to major repair in Argentia. Topside storm damage most commonly amounted to caved in gun tubs, loosened ready boxes, broken telephone hookups at gun mounts, twisted depth charge racks and occasional loss of depth charges, and at times swept away life rafts. Other frigates that logged patrols out of Argentia from mid-1944 to spring 1946 were SHREVEPORT, FORSYTH, GROTON, HINGHAM, GRAND RAPIDS, WOONSOCKET, DEARBORN, COVINGTON, SHEBOYGAN, ABILENE, BEAUFORT, CHARLOTTE, MANITOWOC, LORAIN AND MILLEDGEVILLE. In a bit of welcome duty, LORAIN, MILLEDGEVILLE and GREENSBORO were awarded a brief respite by reassignment for operations as a unit of Task Force 26 based in Recife, Brazil, in support of Army Air Corps and Army Trasnport Command redeployment in the South Atlantic, The frigates steamed via Trinidad for Recife to undertake alternate patrols on Station 12 for the month of December 1945, followed by a week's R&R in Trinidad on return to Argentia. SHREVEPORT engineered an escape from Argentia to make Recife on 17 December for patrol on Station 13 until March 1946.

The second greatest number of Great Lakes frigates. sixteen, were visible from late 1944 to the end of the European war in May 1945, guiding convoys from Norfolk, Virginia, to Oran, Algeria in the Mediterranean. Oran was a major marshalling port for goods destined for Allied armies surging across the Rhine in Germany and those wiping up Italy. KEY WEST, BRUNSWICK and UNIONTOWN shared honors for the most trips, three round trips each. NEWPORT, GLOUCESTER, POUGHKEEPSIE, EVANSVILLE and BATH were retained in service on the Eastern Sea Frontier for coastal escort, patrol and training duties until sent to Seattle for refit and Lend-Lease as the last frigates transferred to the USSR before the program ended in September 1945. Apart from the three honored for the most trips across the Atlantic, thirteen others engaged in convoy duty to Oran including: HURON, GULFPORT, BANGOR, ANNAPOLIS, GLADWYNE, MOBERLY, KNOXVILLE, READING, PEORIA, DAVENPORT, NEW BEDFORD, ORLANDO, and RACINE.

On 8 December 1944, while rounding up stragglers for correct position in a convoy to Oran, HURON was rammed by Liberty ship JAMES FENNIMORE COOPER. Soon HURON was down by the stern, electricty failed and the engine room abandoned due to flooding. Many of the crew were safely transferred to DEs-171, 168 and 326. HURON remained afloat awaiting collision mats to be placed on the 10th and 11th and the vessel taken under tow by ARS-21, first to Bermuda for temporary repairs and then under tow by seagoing tug CHACTAW bound for Charleston Navy Yard. After repairs HURON saw the war out as Flagship, Fleet Sonar School Squadron, Key West, Florida. With convoy GUS-63 numbering seventy-nine ships, BRUNSWICK AND KNOXVILLE departed Oran on 2 January 1945. On the 3rd, after clearing the Straits of Gibralter, Liberty ship HENRY MILLER was torpedoed by U-870. MILLER was soon down by the head but stable. A search for the submarine by the frigates proved unsuccessful. Nearing dusk, fearing bulkhead failure, the master of MILLER ordered twenty-five seamen and twenty-four armed guard into lifeboats. Within minutes of casting off, all were safely aboard BRUNSWICK and bound for delivery in Gibralter the next day. A skeleton crew brought MILLER into Gibralter. All hands survived the torpedo attack, but the ship, not so lucky, was declared a CTL (constructive total loss)

BANGOR sailed on her first convoy for Oran on 23 January 1945. On her second day out she rescued a boatswain mate who had fallen overboard from her screening mate ERICSON (DD-440) The return convoy lost one ship in a torpedo attack. A coordinated depth charge attack by BANGOR and others failed to produce evidence of a U-boat sinking. From 6 February to 19 May, 1945, NEW BEDFORD completed three trips to Oran. On the return voyage of her first trip, an Oran stowaway was landed at Gibralter. Next, the sudden illness of NEW BEDFORD'S chief engineer required transfer to a friendly port hospital. Next a crew member suffered acute appendicitis, requiring rigging a breeches bouy to GLADWYNE for her surgeon to swing across chilly Atlantic waters to perform an emergency appendectomy. Public Health Service doctors aboard the frigates were noted as breeches bouy veterans. On a return voyage from Oran on 5 May 1945, RACINE raced to come alongside SS LISNER in order for breeches bouy delivery of her surgeon on an emergency call. Upon return to RACINE, the Good Samaritan was dunked into a foaming swell as lines slackened between ships. Between two trips to Oran, MOBERLY got in on the last sinking of a U-boat, 6 May 1945, two days before European hostilities ended. Coastal collier BLACK POINT was struck by a torpedo in late afternoon on 5 May, fired by U-853, five miles southeast of Point Judith, Rhode Island. MOBERLY and ATHERTON (DE-169) arrived on scene three hours after the sinking, which had claimed lives of one Navy armed guard and eleven merchant seamen. ATHERTON made first contact and attacked with both hedgehog and depth charges, followed by MOBERLY. Large amounts of debris surfaced. ATHERTON was credited with the sinking with MOBERLY assisting. This marked the end of war in the Atlantic.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Patrol Frigates in North Pacific/BeringSea

Of the twelve frigates built by Kaiser Cargo Company at Richmond on San Francisco Bay, none served in tropical waters, thus from the cool West Coast to the cold of the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. the Kaiser frigates escaped the below decks stifling conditions that plagued frigates serving in the Southwest Pacific. ALBUQUERQUE, assigned as lead ship of Escort Division 27, was first to the Bering Sea, followed by EVERETT, HOQUIAM, PASCO, SASAULITO and TACOMA. PUEBLO, CASPER, GRAND ISLAND and GRAND FORKS worked weather patrol and plane guard out of San Francisco on a schedule of three weeks at sea and two weeks in port.BROWNSVILLE worked out of San Diego, assigned to West Coast Sound School, underway every Monday morning with whatever array of ships had assembled for shakedown exercises. Later, working out of San Francisco, BROWNSVILLE laid a string of flairs in the dead of night to guide a B29 from Hawaii for ditching having radioed engine failure. The B29 lost its last engine several miles short of the flairs and plunged into the sea. The frigate raced to the ditching, successfully recovering fifteen survivors and three bodies for delivery to SanFrancisco. On patrol in October 1944, GRAND FORKS answered a distress call late in the night from a PB2Y about to make an emergency landing in a sea where swells were running up to six feet. Racing to the location and firing off flares and star shells, GRAND FORKS guided the aircraft to a safe landing, quickly taking on board fifteen crewmen and passengers as well as 114 sacks of mail. POCATELLO was the only West Coast frigate to spend her entire career on weather duty. She worked out of Seattle, alternating with the old 240 ft cutter HAIDA on Station Able, 49 degrees N. Latitude - 149 degrees W Longitude or about 1500 miles west of Seattle and 500 miles south of Kodiak in the Gulf of Alaska.

War in the North Pacific and Bering Sea had little influence on the outcome of WWII, and even though early in the war the Japanese saw the Aleutians "pointing like a dagger at the heart of Japan," naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison had it right when he wrote; ". . .No operations in this region of almost perpetual mist snd snow accomplished anything of importance . . . It was a theater of frustrations. Both sides would have done well to leave the Aleutians to the few Aleuts unfortunate to live there. . ." However as part of the Midway offensive in 1942, the Japanese occupied Attu and Kiska at the western end of the chain, and as such, the Americans were obliged to retake these United States owned islands. In March 1943 Admiral Hosogaya with a fleet of heavy cruisers and destroyers and supply vessels bound for Attu and Kiska broke off engagement turning his entire force west on a heading for Japan after spirited exchange with a smaller fleet under Admiral "Soc" McMorris in the Battle of the Komandorskis. American forces landed on Attu on 11 May 1943, securing the island by the end of the month. Kiska was invaded by 35,000 American and Canadian troops in July, only to find that 5000 Japanese troops had slipped away under the cover of bad weather and fog. As Morison put it, "During the rest of the war the Aleutians offer little of interest. Harassing raids on Paramushiro were varied by various shore bombardments and feeble Japanese retalitory raids on Attu, Kiska and Adak. . . In any case, it was wonderful practice ground for armed forces, after a tour of duty in the Aleutians, every other field of action seemed good." And so it was, from 1943 to 1945 with weather the common enemy, Task Force 94 made up of old four stacker cruisers and accompanying destroyers swung at anchor in Kulak Bay, Adak, between periodic bombardment of Paramushiro and Matsuwa in the Japanese Kurile Islands across the Bering Sea. In the worst of flying conditions the "Forgotten" Eleventh Air Force in tired old B-24s and B-25s carried out in excess of 1,500 sorties by war's end from Adak and Navy Patrol Wing Four flying PV-1 Ventura bombers flew numerous sorties from Attu against the Kurile bases. With the Japanese gone and the Aleutians secured, the Joint Chiefs abandoned any thought of invasion of the Kuriles, 650 miles across the Bering Sea from the western Aleutians, partly because of the eternal hostile weather that both sides knew as the common enemy. The Aleuts called the Aleutians the "Birthplace of bad weather" - wind, rain, snow, sleet,fog, clouds and storms. The Aleutians enjoy no calm or dry season and no station records as many as ten partly clear days a year. The great arc of the Aleutian chain forms the battle front where moist unstable air warmed by the the subtropical Kurashio (Japan) Current clashes with cold, dry Siberian air sweeping south across the chilled Bering Sea, Following the Attu campaign, Admiral King stated, "That chain of islands provides as rugged a theater for warfare as any in the world. Not only are the islands mountainous and rocky, but the weather in the western part is continuously bad. The fogs are almost continuous and thick. Violent winds with accompanying heavy seas make any kind of operation in that vicinity difficult and uncertain." In this hostile environment the Coast Guard had known a long and honored tradition. By the 1890s the Bering Sea Patrol of the Revenue Cutter Service had earned the respect of smugglers and the welcome of ice-locked Eskimo villages. So it was that on 11 April 1944, six days out of Seattle, Scotch Cap light guarding Unimak Pass arose to starboard at 0315, announcing ALBUQUERQUE's arrival in the bleak and barren Aleutian Islands and authorizing entrance into the Bering Sea for passage to Dutch Harbor and the beginning of a 14 month tour ending in June 1945. The frigate returned to Seattle in June for refit in preparation for transfer under Lend Lease to the USSR at Cold Bay in August. ALBUQUERQUE and EVERETT arrived in the Aleutians on schedule in April. Protracted post-shakedown availability delayed arrival of HOQUIAM until 27 August, SAUSALITO until 5 October, PASCO until 15 October and lastly, troubled-plagued TACOMA avoided the Bering Sea until 21 October.

Arriving Dutch Harbor on 11 April and following refueling and divers removing twelve feet of bilge keel that had broken away from its welding. ALBUQUERQUE was underway in late afternoon leading a convoy out of Dutch Harbor, through Unimak Pass into the Gulf of Alaska to a prearranged convoy separation point. At departure the log entry read: ". . . Unmoored and standing out of Dutch Harbor with convoy formed up in the following manner - SS TURIALBA in position 11 (convoy guide), USAT WILLIAM L, THOMPSON position 21, SS HENDERSON LUELLING position 31. SS CHEIF WASHAKIE position 12, SS WILLAIM T. SHERMAN position 22 in accordance with U.S. Naval Op. Base, Dutch Harbor, confidential orders, this vessel ahead standard speed 135 rpm, zigzagging patrol station ahead of convoy. 2000-2400 maintain speed 10 knots." All this was standard procedure, a routine the ship would follow with each departure. From April to August 1944, ALBUQUERQUE led twenty-two convoys for a total of eigthy-four days at sea in stop and go fashion from Dutch Harbor to Adak to Attu with occasional convoys in and out of Kodiak in the Gulf of Alaska. In mid-August, the frigate was assigned her first seven day patrol on Guard Ship Station off the Russian Komandorski Islands in participation with the Eleventh Air Force and Navy Air Wing 4 bombing raids over the Japanese Kurile Islands. Guard Ship Station duty included IFF (identification friend or foe signal, rescue in case of ditching and radar readiness.) By February 1945, ALBUQUERQUE completed five guard ship patrols, all under the usual miserable weather of the Bering Sea. On the 19 April, moored in Dutch Harbor, several days after the first convoy mission. the crew was aroused at 0427 for a mission to render assistance to the distressed Liberty ship JOHN W. STRAUB, reported sinking off Sanak Island near Cold Bay, 200 miles distance. Making for Unimak Pass, SS TALOA passed to port at Scotch Cap light and blinkered a message, "We have no survivors of STRAUB aboard." At exactly high noon, lookouts called out a sighting, within minutes identified as the stern section of the ill-fated STRAUB. Through scattered dunnage and lumber, several rafts, one capsized boat and countless fifty-gallon oil drums, no survivors or bodies were sighted. At this point an army crash boat from Fort Randall hove into view signaling the rescue of fifteen men from a nearly swamped lifeboat. ALBUQUERQUE then maneuvered to leeward and lowered her whaleboat for boarding STRAUB. Away from the ship for thirty minutes, the boarding party returned to report no sign of life aboard the Liberty ship and no sign of fire. The sinking claimed the lives of the captain and four ship's officers, thirty-five merchant seamen, fourteen Navy men and the cargo security officer, fifty-five in all. The Navy believed that the sinking was the result of an internal explosion. Later the Coast Guard credited the sinking to a mine, but there remained unanswered the possibility of a torpedo sinking by the Japanese submarine I-180, sunk by GILMORE DE-18 on 26 April, less than 400 miles from the STRAUB sinking. Late in th afternoon of the 19th, ALBUQUERQUE prepared to sink the derelict. when with a rumble of escaping air the last of the JOHN W. STRAUB slipped below the grey swells at 1550 hours.

ALBUQUERQUE was involved in two additional ship in distress actions, one in October the other in December 1944. HOQUIAM and SAUSALITO were on scene by early October and PASCO and TACOMA on their way north, but none were available to steam in company with ALBUQUERQUE during a violent storm episode out of Kodiak beginning on 7 October. Standing out of Women's Bay near nightfall on the 7th in company with PCE 880 bound for Unimak Pass and Dutch Harbor, herding Liberty ship tanker JOHN P. ALTGELD and freighter TALOA, a rapidly falling bsrometer vouched for coming dirty weather. At change of watch at 0800 on the 8th winds were gusting at a shrieking 80 knots, seas to fifty feet from crest to trough, clouds of spindrift flying to leeward of heightened crests of waves and convoy progress down to six knots. Shortly into the midwatch ALTGELD signaled fear of breaking up as a crack was progressively lengthening across the width of her main deck immediately abaft the midship superstructure. ALBUQUERQUE came about to keep ALTGELD in close view as the tanker maneuvered to take the seas on her quarter and then she hove to signaling that deck break had worsened and now stretched rail to rail. Little could be done in preparation for rescue other than keeping the distressed vessel under close observation in the fading afternoon light. At 1630 hours a flashing blinker message from ALTGELD read "Captain reports she is cracking more but thinks he can ride it out," followed a few minutes later with, "We have dumped some cargo to relieve stress." In the failing light the struggling tanker was instructed not to darken ship, show all navigation and other lights, and that ALBUQUERQUE would maintain searchlight cover after nightfall. At 1800 hours ALTGELD signaled more cargo discharged and cracking had stopped. When asked if advisable to proceed to destination or return to port of departure, ALTGELD quickly replied, "Ship unable to stand rough weather, Captain advises return to port of departure." Near midnight with winds falling off, the tanker set a course for return to Kodiak, speed three knots, the frigate in the lead, PCC-880 and TALOA instructed to proceed to destination, Dutch Harbor. Twenty-four hours later the frigate led the tanker into Kodiak.

A long and welcome dalliance in Dutch Harbor ended abruptly on 14 December, midway through the evening mess deck film, with the piping of special sea detail and immediate departure on orders from Harbormaster NOB in response to distress call from USAT NORTH WIND hard aground and breaking up in heavy sea on an outer island in the Shamagins off Cold Bay, a point about 200 miles east of Unimak Pass and at least fourteen hours steaming time from Dutch Harbor. Under heavy weather steaming, the small island of Chernabura was abeam at 1450 hours on the 15th. USAT DAVID W. BRANCH was identified maneuvering in sight of the wreck, the NORTH WIND clearly beyond salvage and breaking up stranded on a reef. BRANCH advised that two boats had cleared the wreck before her arrival and that her motor lifeboat was alongside to rescue the remaining crew. In the face of an icy wind the frigate stood in toward the wreck to form a lee for the lifeboat. The boat departed the wreck but lost headway when a wave swamped her engine. Oars were broken out but then the boat lost the first line fired by Lyle gun from the frigate. A second line was fired and held fast for passing along the four inch tow line. Once secured and at the shout of "haul away,"the boat in no time scraped alongside the frigate's fantail. From an all but swamped boat, eighteen NORTH WIND survivors and BRANCH's boat crew scrambled aboard the frigate. All NORTH WIND hands were accounted for when a radio message from Liberty ship CARL SCHURZ reported that remaining crew from two lifeboats were safely aboard. SCHURZ joined up and in line of three, the frigate zigzzaging in the lead, the convoy made for Dutch Harbor arriving unannounced at 0315 Sunday, 17 December. The Seattle Post Intelligencer, 5 January 1945. carried a front page story: "Dramatic details of a hazardous North Pacific rescue of 55 men from the stricken army supply freighter North Wind were disclosed by the army and the coast guard here yesterday with the arrival in Seattle of 18 of the survivors. Participating in the daring mercy operation in pounding, gale-whipped waters off Cold Bay, in the Aleutians, were a coast guard vessel and the army transport David W. Branch. Thanks to the cooperation of the two services, not a life was lost in the nearly 12 hours it took to save the crew after the ship was swept off course in a storm late on the night of December 14."

Typical sea conditions were on hand as the new year 1945 approached. ALBUQUERQUE and TACOMA had cleared Kulak Bay, Adak, bound for Attu on 21 December escorting old fleet oiler BRAZOS AO-4 and Liberty ship CARL SCHURZ. The usual dirty winter weather developed into a nasty storm by dawn on the 22nd. On the morning watch, BRAZOS steaming 400 yards off ALBUQUERQUE's starboard quarter surfaced from time to time awash in foam only to disappear in a plunge into the next giant sea. The Liberty ship trailing the tanker labored to the crest of wind-heightened seas, her stern lifting skyward to reveal an aimlessly turning propeller whose blades upon digging in on the down slope slapped the water with a pow! pow! pow! sounding very much like the distant firing of a 40mm gun. After dark, conditions were perfect for a surprise burst of St. Elmo's Fire. The first discharge of white light outlined the mast, spar and radar antenna. A few moments later a second discharge sped around the top of the forward main battery gun tub. St Elmo's Fire commonly occurs in cold water seas, most frequently in bad weather. Following a brief rest in Attu, ALBUQUERQUE made for Akak on the 27th escorting SCHURZ for a quick turn around while TACOMA readied to relieve PASCO on Guard Ship Station off the Komandorskis. On 6 January the frigate departed Adak for return to Attu, arriving on the 7th to moor alongside PASCO. PASCO had been through a particularly violent bit of bad weather on patrol that came close to disaster when experiencing more than one roll in excess of 60 degrees. As it turned out ALBUQUERQUE was in for an extended tour of lonely patrols lasting until mid-February in unending beastly weather, twice relieved by TACOMA and twice by EVERETT. TACOMA, ailing after four months in the Bering Sea, limped off stateside for extensive overhaul, while PASCO shortly received orders to slip away to Seattle for duty along the Northwest coast. Upon departure of the two, Commander Task Force 91 sent a communication -- 0501042 CONFIDENTIAL -- CTF91 SENDS TO COMCORTDIV 27 WHO GIVES BY HAND TO TACOMA X ALSO ACTION SAUSALITO, HOQUIAM, ALBUQUERQUE, EVERETT AND PASCO X ALL HANDS CARRY OUT WITH YOU IN ADDITION TO MEMORIES OF FOG, RAIN AND WIND A SINCERE NAVY QUOTE WELL DONE UNQUOTE. Checking in one-by-one in January 1945, sentenced to the Aleutians to end their WWII days before transfer to the USSR, came the Philippine veterans BISBEE, GALLUP, ROCKFORD, MUSKOGEE, CARSON CITY AND BURLINGTON. By April it was clear that the war was winding down in the Aleutians. Port time was more the order of the day with fewer ships to escort,as need for supplies declined and reduction in forces along the chain progressed. Further evidence that wartime conditions were waning occurred with the return of the Aleuts who had been evacuated to southwestern Alaska in 1942. ALBUQUERQUE escorted the first returning Aleuts aboard the DAVID W. BRANCH into Nazan Bay, Atka Island, on 27 April. By early June all eleven Bering Sea frigates were awaiting orders to proceed to Seattle for refit and July-September transfer to the USSR at Cold Bay.

Patrol Frigates in Southwest Pacific - Leyte campaign

Twenty-one frigates participated in General MacArthur's New Guinea campaign and return to the Philippines in 1944. These included all Consolidated Steel built frigates, Nos. 34 to 51, except for CORPUS CHRISTI (PF-44). CORPUS CHRISTI steamed on by the jumping off points of Noumea, New Calidonia and Cairns, Australia, where her sisters were enlisting one-by-one in Admiral Barbey's Seventh Fleet amphibious division. PF-44 continued on around the southern coast of Australia to Fremantle, the port for Perth, for a lengthy tour of submarine training exercises and lonely patrol in the Indian Ocean. All alone on 13 February 1945, she rescued ninety-two survivors of the torpedoed Liberty ship, PETER SYLVESTER. Joined by HUTCHINSON from Leyte in December 1944, these two set the frigate record for continuous time away from the States at sixteen months, returning to California in October 1945. Escorting six British transports bound for New Guinea, New Hebrides and the Soloman Islands,four Great Lakes built frigates, ALLENTOWN, CHARLOTTESVILLE, MACHIAS and SANDUSKY, arrived in New Guinea in September 1944. Now the list was complete; twenty-one patrol frigates wed to the Seventh Fleet for operations stretching from the tail of bird-shaped New Guinea at Milne Bay to the last stop in New Guinea at Cape Sansapor on the bird's head on Vogelkop Peninsula. From New Guinea MacArthur's scheme drew the frigates northwest to Morotai in the Halmahera Islands, and lastly 500 miles northwest to Leyte. Through it all the call to duty saw frigate sailors through long spells of anti-submarine patrol (ping patrol), sleepless invasion screening, plodding escort duty to and fro across the Equator from Hollandia, New Guinea, 1400 miles northwest to Leyte, occasional bombardment assignments and often days on end at general quarters warding off air attacks in Leyte Gulf and San Pedro Bay, all endured on ships lacking suitable ventilation below decks.

For the Leyte campaign, Vice Admiral Kincaid was in command of naval operations. Kincaid's reorganized Seventh Fleet consisted of three task forces - 77, 78 and 79, with Kincaid commanding TF77, Admiral Barbey TF78 and Admiral Wilkinson TF79. Over 700 ships made up the Leyte campaign of which ten frigates steamed with TF78 Northern Attack Force, 17-29 October 1944 -- GALLUP and BISBEE TG78.4, the Dinagat Attack Group, landing Rangers on islands commanding entry to Leyte Gulf prior to invasion -- CARSON CITY and BURLINGTON TG78.6 Reinforcement Group One -- MUSKOGEE and SAN PEDRO, Reinforcement Group Two -- EUGENE, EL PASO, VAN BUREN and ORANGE, Reinforcement Group Three. Following the October invasion, the primary role for all twenty-one frigates was escort duty back and forth from Hollandia to San Pedro Bay and Tacloban at the northern edge of Leyte Gulf, most trips under sporadic enemy aircraft attack and occasional kamikaze attacks on transports, LSTs and large freighters. On 5 December 1944, CORONADO and SAN PEDRO, en route to Leyte Gulf, raced to the sinking SS SAUGRAIN torpedoed by a Japanese OSCAR torpedo bomber, successfully saving 418 army troops. On 12 November 1944, OGDEN and BURLINGTON on patrol as anti-aircraft screen off Dulag, Leyte, engaged aircraft attacking unloading convoy. At the end of the day OGDEN proudly accepted the well-earned message: FROM COMMANDER ESCORT DIVISION TWENTY-FIVE, USS LONG BEACH, FLAGSHIP. THE OGDEN PF39 TO BE COMMENDED FOR SHOOTING DOWN THREE (3) ENEMY PLANES, DULAG, LEYTE ISLAND, PHILIPPINE ISLANDS.

As the year 1944 drew to a close, the days were numbered for the frigates in the Southwest Pacific. The Pacific War was rapidly moving north ever closer to Japan waters, where fast task forces and big guns ruled the seas and long range bombers raided the Japanese homelands from the Marianas. By December, 24 knot DEs with 5 inch guns made first appearance in Equatorial waters replacing the 20 knot frigates. Of the frigates, first to leave was CortDiv 43 - ROCKFORD, GALLUP, BISBEE, BURLINGTON, MUSKOGEE, CARSON CITY - arriving Pearl Harbor on 15 December and shortly on north to join up with Escort Division 27 in the Bering Sea. CortDiv 25, made up of the six frigates that collectively earned the most battle stars - GLENDALE, LONG BEACH, CORONADO, SAN PEDRO, OGDEN, BELFAST - were next to leave, arriving Boston on 24 January 1945, for refit in preparation for transfer to the USSR at Cold Bay, Alaska. CortDiv 29, made up of EUGENE, EL PASO, VAN BUREN, ORANGE, were on their way north by early January for refit as weather ships and other duties. HUTCHINSON and CORPUS CHRISTI carried on in the Indian Ocean until August 1945. Cort Div 33, SANDUSKY, MACHIAS, ALLENTOWN and CHARLOTTESVILLE, remained in Philippine waters until early March 1945, escorting convoys to Mindoro, Subic Bay and Lingayen Gulf as American forces moved north to Manila and Luzon. All four departed together, first for Pearl Harbor and on to Seattle in April for refit en route to Cold Bay and transfer to the USSR on 12 July 1945. Collectively, the twenty-one frigates of the Philippine theater were awarded fifty-two battle stars as follows:


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Patrol Frigate building program

The frigate building program proceeded with all deliberate speed, 1943-44, at the two California yards, Consolidated Steel Company of Willmington/San Pedro and Kaiser Corporation at Richmond on San Francisco Bay. In both yards from keel-laying to commissioning averaged no more than seven months, and in the case of most of the eighteen Consolidated Steel ships, post-shakedown availability was of short duration so that frigates LONG BEACH, GLENDALE, CORONADO and SAN PEDRO were on there way to the South Pacific as early as January and February 1944. The case for the Kaiser yard was not quite so clear cut. Of PFs 3 to 8, only ALBUQUERQUE and EVERETT advanced on schedule and on their way to long haul assignment in the Bering Sea by April 1944. TACOMA, bearing the class name and the first launched at Richmond, plagued by engine and boiler room problems, missed her assignment until October. Likewise, SAUSALITO, HOQUIAM and PASCO also suffered protracted post-shakedown availability that posponed arrival in the Aleutians until autumn 1944. Kaiser frigates 9 to 14, following shakedown, were assigned to Western Sea Frontier operations out of San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.

Six Great Lakes yards, two on Lake Superior, two on Lake Erie and two on the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan were awarded forty-nine frigate contracts. Four contracts held by American Shipbuilding of Lorain, Ohio, were cancelled before the program ended. Plagued by delays, Great Lakes built frigates averaged fourteen months from keel-laying to commissioning. BAYONNE and ALEXANDRIA held the record at 21 months 8 days and 20 months 18 days respectively. Once launched each new frigate faced no less than a 2000 mile trip to salt water. Without a Saint Lawrence Seaway to accommodate transit to Atlantic ports for outfitting, the Mississippi River was the only route to the sea. The frigates were ferried to Chicago, then with pontoons welded to the sides, raising the draft to less than 9 feet (standard constant waterway depth) and mast lowered to allow passage under bridges, each frigate slipped into the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal and on to the Illinois River waterway through locks to reach the Mississippi at Alton, and there lashed among barges and towboat for the 1000 mile run down the steamboat highway to the Gulf of Mexico. Some were outfitted in New Orleans and nearby Louisiana yards, while others had to proceed another 500 miles to Galveston and Houston for outfitting. Delays not withstanding, a considerable number completed shakedown and reported to duty by mid-year 1944, some for Atlantic convoy assignment, others converted for weather duty in the North Atlantic and four of the Great Lakes frigates, the SANDUSKY, MACHIAS, ALLENTOWN and CHARLOTTESVILLE abandoned the Atlantic to join up with the California frigates attached to the amphibious division of the Seventh Fleet in the South Pacific.