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.

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