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.

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