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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday Ship History: Fleet Tugs- the ATFs

Maybe you read the book The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger. And maybe you remember that there was a Coast Guard cutter named Tamaroa out at sea trying to rescue the crew of a sail boat in big, big trouble. And maybe you've seen the photo of Tamaroa sending its rescue boat out in heavy seas (it's to the left), and maybe you just saw the standard Coastie paint scheme and didn't pay much attention to the ship itself.

Well, you should have. That stout little ship took men into harm's way for 50+ years and probably paid back whatever it cost to build her several times over. She even gained some fame as the Coast Guard "submarine."

Before that, before she was the USCGC Tamaroa (WMEC-166), she was a Navy ship - USS Zuni (ATF-95), a Fleet Tug. An ocean-going armed ship with powerful engines and specialized gear to save and salvage other ships- ships bigger and more sleek, perhaps, but expensive and hard to replace. And so Zuni and her kin, some 70 in her class alone, became valuable because they could save the "big boys." In his work Beans, Bullets an Black Oil, mentions that learning to use these tugs properly was painfully slow:
Here at Midway we lost the Yorktown. We had not yet learned thoroughly the use and value of fleet tugs and salvage action.
But the learning came, and ships were saved. One ship doing the saving was Zuni:
On December 20, 1944, repairs completed, Zuni towed a disabled merchant ship and troop transport to Ulithi Lagoon.

On December 29, 1944, Zuni began 29 days of operation in support of Task Group 30.8, Third Fleet, off Luzin Island, the Philipines.

She supported US attacks on Luzon, January 6-7; Formosa on January 3-4, 9, 15 and 21; the China coast on January 12 and 16; and Nansei Shoto on January 22. Zuni. It was during this time period that she towed the light cruiser USS Houston to safety after it got hit by two torpedoes off Taiwan. Soon thereafter, the Zuni towed the torpedoed cruiser USS Reno--they lashed the two vessels together to keep the Reno from capsizing.
Probably a career for some ships, but Zuni kept going. In support of the assault on Iwo Jima, Zuni seems to have been used to propel an LST with badly needed ammo onto the beach where the ammunition could be offloaded. See here.

Her efforts at Iwo cost her:
On March 23, 1945, while assisting LST 27, Zuni's wire towline snapped and struck and killed MoMM2c James M Byres, USNR of New York, NY, and F1c Frederick F. Pavlovics, of Elizabeth, NJ. These two men are the only fatalities in the ship's long and illustrious career.

With the snapped towline fouling the propellor and the anchor line disabled, Zuni broached on Iwo Jima's "Yellow" beach. The broaching broke her keel and punched a number of holes into her sides.
She was towed off the beach and home for repairs. But what a record!
Her wartime achievements were remarkable. In just two years time, Zuni earned four battle stars; participated in four invasions; saved two cruisers, two transports and numerous small craft and other vessels. Admiral "Bull" Halsey awarded the Legion of Merit to her skipper, Lt. Ray E. Chance. In an interesting aside, from the time of her commissioning the Zuni was underway 80% of the time.
Fixed, she was decommissioned by the Navy in 1946, and commissioned as a Coast Guard Cutter.

There was no change in work ethic with the change of color scheme. Her Coast Guard history from 1946 to 1994 is as brilliant as her Navy career:
Throughout her Coast Guard career the Tamaroa assisted many vessels in distress. She was first on the scene at the sinking of the Andrea Doria. Among some of the more notable rescues include: the fishing vessels Deepwater, Foam and the yacht Petrel in the 60's; in the 80's she rescued the crew of Soviet freighter SS Konsomolets Kirgizil, the crew of the fishing vessel Jimmy Squarefoot, and rescued a portion of the crew of the 254-foot container ship, the SS Lloyd Bermuda after it went down when its cargo shifted in heavy seas.

Of course, the most publicized rescues the Tamaroa was in 1991 during the "No-Name" or "Halloween Storm" that was subsequently immortalized in Sebatian Junger's best-seller The Perfect Storm. The Tamaroa assisted in the rescue of the three crewmembers of the sailboat Satori, 75 miles off Nantucket island. During the operation seas built to forty feet in height and the winds were topping 80 mph.

No sooner had the crew relaxed when the Tamaroa was battling the heavy seas again, this time in search of the crew of a downed Air National Guard Helicopter that had been forced to ditch when it ran out of fuel on a rescue mission of its own. Tamaroa was able to rescue four of the five Air National Guardsmen, an act which earned the cutter the Coast Guard Foundation Award.
And, of course, the Coast Guard "submarine" thing:
The Tamaroa had a unique reputation within the Coast Guard. She was known as the Coast Guard's only submarine due to an incident in the 60's when a crewmember opened a drydock's seacocks while the Tamaroa was getting refitted. At the time, she had several large gaping holes in her side to access mechanical repairs , she consequently sank.
Today efforts are underway to preserve this ship, as set out here.

Of course, Zuni/Tamaroa was but one of the fleet tugs which helped to win WWII. Others salvaged ships and rescued ships and men after battles at sea. Some were involved in Korean War operations, and some served during Vietnam. One ship, USS Cree had the dubious distinction of being bombed by a U.S. Navy plane off the coast of Southern California:
On the morning of 18 January 1978, tug Cree (ATF-84) released ex-YO-129 as a target for “live” bombing practice by naval aircraft, while steaming off the coast of southern California. Cree then proceeded north to clear the target area, taking her assigned station, but mistakenly became a target when a “Navy jet aircraft” made an attack run on her at 1206, unleashing three 500 lb bombs on the ship and her crew. One bomb struck the mast and exploded in the air close aboard to starboard, showering the tug with fragments. The second bomb fell along the port side, sliced beneath the ship and exploded underwater off the starboard side, “engulfing” Cree in a wall of water. The third slammed into the ship on the port bow, passing through seven bulkheads in the forward part of the ship, before becoming wedged into the passageway between the chief petty officer’s quarters and sick bay, though failing to detonate. The damage to the ship was severe, including holing of the mast, destruction of two life rafts, severing of the emergency power cable and fragment damage above the 01 Level. Below decks, the ship’s gyro was destroyed by the bomb forward, which also damaged the diving locker and bulkheads. The underwater explosion, however, caused the most serious damage, blasting several holes in bulkheads and splitting seams. Motor room B-2 became “a tangled mass of warped frames,” with equipment “wrenched from mountings and broken lines.” Flooding in excess of 2,000 gallons per minute was reported.
Cree survived.

For more on these ships and the men who served in them, the website of the National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors here is a great place to start. For example, there's a great picture of USS Abnaki (ATF-96), towing captured German U-boat 505 ("borrowed" and put on the right). And
USS Menominee ATF 73 photo taken while fighting fire caused by Japanese "Kaiten" suicide sub that had rammed into and exploded in the USS Mississinewa AO 59 at Ulithi Atoll November 1944 (Submitted Sid Harris via Ed Loebs)(and "borrowed")

A salute to their crews and the work they did.

In today's Navy, Military Sealift Command operates four ATFs.

UPDATE: More on the towing of U-505 here.

Update2 (4/30/07):
Great picture of post battle towing:
USS Canberra (CA-70)

Under tow toward Ulithi Atoll after she was torpedoed while operating off Okinawa. USS Houston (CL-81), also torpedoed and under tow, is in the right background.
Canberra was hit amidships on 13 October 1944. Houston was torpedoed twice, amidships on 14 October and aft on 16 October.
The tugs may be USS Munsee (ATF-107), which towed Canberra, and USS Pawnee (ATF-74).

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:39 PM

    Interesting photo of the Canberra under tow. I was on Nipmuc ATF 157 in 1952 when Canberra and Boston were taken from the mothball fleet in Bremerton and sent thru the Panama Canal,Us and two other ATF's took the mothballed cruisers in tow to Philadelphia NSY where they were converted to the Navy's first guided missile cruisers. Walt Barber