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.

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