Return to 1947 to 1960

Open Ocean

The open-ocean cutters were six 327s that survived the war and 13 255s commissioned in 1945, too late to serve in the war. The DEs and PFs were returned to the Navy. With the growing demand for Ocean Weather Stations, the Navy gave 18 311’ Barnegat-class seaplane tenders to the Coast Guard. The 311s were a boon. With aviation fuel tanks converted to ships’ service fuel, they could cruise 20,000 miles. The crew enjoyed living spaces that were designed for twice their number. And the ships had excellent sea keeping ability. The first three ships were given outright to the Coast Guard and so were renamed after historical cutters. The other 15 were “loaned” to the Coast Guard and retained their Navy names, which were bays and inlets. All of them served over 20 years with their new owners. The Coast Guard temporarily acquired USS Charleston, an Erie-class PG, to replace the lost Alexander Hamilton. The Coast Guard still used the Navy classification system. The 327s and 255s were WPGs. The 311s were WAVPs.

The main mission of these cutters, aside from SAR, was ocean weather station duty. By 1945, American ships manned 13 Atlantic stations and 24 Pacific stations. European nations combined to man another nine in the Atlantic. By 1946, the number had been reduced to two in the Pacific and one in the Atlantic. A 1946 conference strongly recommended the re-establishment of the stations. Other nations balked at supplying ships and questioned the real need.

On 14 October 1947, Bibb was manning Station Charlie, midway between Ireland and Newfoundland. A full gale was blowing. Bermuda Sky Queen, enroute to New York with 69 souls on board, ran out of fuel and was forced to ditch in 20-foot seas. She homed in on Bibb’s radio beacon while Bibb spread oil to calm the seas. The aircraft made a perfect ditch landing and surfboats from Bibb rescued all on board. The need for the weather stations had been demonstrated. Eventually nine permanent stations were established in the Atlantic. Originally, five permanent stations and one manned during typhoon season were established in the Pacific, but this number was gradually reduced to three permanent stations. The Coast Guard manned five Atlantic and all Pacific stations. France, England, Canada, and the Netherlands manned the others.

Station Sugar was a typical station in the Pacific Ocean. The typical itinerary for manning the station had a cutter sail from a West Coast port to Sugar, from Sugar to Japan for R&R, from Japan to Sugar, and from Sugar back to home port. This was a three-month evolution. Oceanographic observations were recommended for weather ships almost from the start. Beginning in 1945 and continuing to the end, cutters made bathythermograph (B/T) observations that today constitute the largest B/T archive in existence. Many specific, short-term programs were carried out with oceanographers frequently riding the ships.

On 16 October 1956, Pontchartrain was manning November when she received a call from Pan American Clipper 10943. The aircraft had lost an engine and would have to ditch. Pontch laid fire-fighting foam to calm the seas. It was said that a female passenger looking out the window saw Pontch below and said to the person next to her, “There they are, God bless them.” The pilot made a textbook ditch, but the aircraft broke in half. Surfboats immediately began transferring passengers and crew to the cutter. Within 20 minutes of ditching, the aircraft had sunk. But before she did, every soul on board was safe aboard Pontch.

Of course, sometimes the rescuers needed rescuing. On 23 July 1947, Bibb and her 150-man crew were assigned to Ocean Station Charlie, when a crewmember, Seaman Joseph Johns of Helena, Georgia, became seriously ill with a ruptured appendix. The ship did not carry a doctor, and the pharmacist mates on board believed Johns’ condition was beyond their capabilities to help. The captain considered steaming for Argentia (Arj), Newfoundland, but the situation dictated that Johns needed to be airlifted immediately to medical help. The Coast Guard Air Detachment based at the U.S Naval Air Station at Argentia dispatched a PBY-5A on the mission. The pilots and aircrew for this mercy mission were Patrol Plane Commander (PPC) LT. William Morrill, First Pilot (PP1P) Aviation Pilot First Class Clayton. Roll, PP2P and navigator, Chief Aviation Pilot Kenneth Franke, and crew members Aviation Machinist Mate First Class (AMM 1/C) John Pallam, AMM 2/C J. C. Entrekin, and Aviation Radio Man First Class (ARM 1/C) Walter Corbett. This aircraft and crew made a 1,300-mile round trip and an open sea landing and take off to bring Johns to a hospital in St. Johns, Newfoundland.

For a complete list of white hulls that served from 1947 to 2000 go to this Link.