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Designed to assist the Fleet's large ATF tugs, their small put powerful ATA - class cousins gave the Navy 30-years of unpublicized but distinguished service. --------------------------------------wizened old salt once noted that a Navy is only as good as the fighting ability of its ships. That said, he may have added that fighting ships are only as good as those that keep them seaworthy and in fighting trim. Although quite a profound statement taken at face value, our sage did not go on to explain what it takes to keep a warship in service, especially in wartime. Navies fighting in an expansive ocean environment thousands of miles from established based often require special


Pacific W ar veteran USS Tunica (ATA-178) towed all manner of barges and ships around the Pacific before going into the reserve fleet from which she was taken from Beaumont, Texas, to Pearl Harbor in 1986 to serve as a salvage training hulk for salvage ship trainees. Tunica was repeatedly run aground, set afire and adrift before finally being sunk in 1999 during a SINKEX exercise.

support, particularly after they've been damaged in battle. This requirement led the U.S. Navy in 1939 to commence building what became a 69 ship-strong fleet of large 1,265-ton "fleet tugs." Designated ATF's for Ocean Tug, Fleet, they offered immense built-in salvage and repair capability that could literally keep a battered battleship afloat, if necessary. However, as World War II rapidly progressed into a true two-ocean war, it became evident that the very nature of what was fast becoming an amphibious Naval war mandated a tremendous requirement for additional deep-sea rescue tugs with a very long legs of service the damaged victims of ever-increasing Naval operations.

To expedite their construction, Naval planners deemed these new vessels could indeed be somewhat smaller and less ambidextrous than the brawny 205-ft ATFs without USCGC Comanche seen in 2009 under restoration at Tacoma, sacrificing their essential W ashington, began life as ATA-202 commissioned in December 1944, mission role of towing won a Battle Star for WW II duty, became a Coast Guard cutter (W MEC-202) in 1959 and retired in 1980. Thousands of volunteer man capability. In short, these hours have been spent bringing her back to pristine condition after laying smaller auxiliary tugs did not idle for well over 20-yrs. require the pumping and firefighting capability of an ATF, nor mirror its imposing range of salvage and life-saving skills. Lightly armed and powered with half the horsepower of their big cousins, the ATFs, it was intended to reduce their drafts to draw at least 4-ft less water making it easier for them to work in more shallow bays and lagoons. The program called for a stout, sound, seaworthy design that could be built relatively quickly with a minimal amount of high-priority materials and semi-skilled labor. In evaluating the merits of what pre-existing tug designs were available, or those which could be quickly modified, the planners attention was drawn to a very successful large harbor tug conceived and built by Levingston Shipbuilders in Orange, Texas. Created and built with their own funds in 1940, and launched in January 1941, the resulting 135-ft 530-ton steel-hulled vessel had a raised

focscle and typically chubby hull lines. With its powerful diesel engine and open bridge, the vessel was immediately purchased "off the shelf" by the Navy, named the USS Tuscarora (Right) and given the designation YTB-341 when commissioned a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Assigned to port duties at Norfolk Navy Yard, the tug's stalwart performance and reliability soon became known to all.

The USS Tuscorora...acquired by the Navy in 1941 was actually the vessel used for the redesign of the longrange, ocean-going 143-ft auxiliary tugs.

Within weeks of the Japanese sneak attack on 7 December 1941, General Motors engineers, Naval planners, and Levingston's architects combined their talents to suitably modify the Tuscarora blueprint into a larger ocean-going tug with an impressive 10,000-mi cruising radius utilizing two GM 12-228A diesel engines (750-shp each) turning twin GE electric generators totaling 1500-shp. Spinning an 8-ft bronze propeller on a single shaft at 12-kts offered a 12,000-mi range on its 49,950-gal diesel tanks. Lengthening the hull to 143-ft LOA Like everything aboard an ATA, its pilot house was small and cramped. Sailors frequently had to "hot to house the required fuel capacity gave the ship bunk" (share a bed in shifts). The ATAs were a maximum speed of 13.2-kts with crowded but notorious for running out of food on long voyages due livable accommodations for five officers and 40 to their limited storage space. enlisted men. A large 20-ton tripod mounted derrick and boom was fitted aft of the squat stack along with a towing bridle and powerful winch on the open aft main deck. Directly behind the bridge flag bags was a high-pressure water cannon for fire-fighting. Abeam the funnel on the 01 level were davits for a 26-ft motor whaleboat.

USS Sagamore (ATA-208) was one of the 16 Sotoyomoclass auxiliary tugs that remained on the US Navy rolls until the early 1970s when the last of their type were retired. Commissioned at Port Arthur, Texas, in March 1945, Sagamore went to the Dominican Republic in February 1972.

Unlike the jack-of-all-trades ATFs, their little ATA cousins were not fitted with antisubmarine gear; the limited deck space permitting only the installation of a single manually sighted

3-in/50 DP gun on the bow, plus a single 20mm/80 Oerlikon AA on each bridge wing. Small arms in the form of Thompson sub-machine guns, S&W shotguns and M-1 Garands were provided along with .45-cal Colt automatics for shipboard security, boarding enemy vessels, and destruction of floating mines.

No task to small or large, the crews of the Umpqua (ATA-209) and Alska (YTB-229) managed to shoe-horn a section of huge YFD-6 floating drydock through the Panama Canal's narrow Culebra cut during a harrowing transit in June 1945. Navy Seabees designed a rig to upend the YFD vertically to clear the narrow passage. Umpqua was lost in an accident in 1975 while in the service of the Columbian Navy.

Rated as 610-ton vessels, Levingston, Gulfport and Defoe Shipbuilding were awarded contracts that ultimately saw 89 ATAs built, of which ten went directly to the Royal Navy under Lend-Lease as BATs. Toward the end of their production run, five ATAs with twin propellers were also transferred to the U.S. Army Transportation Corps. As ordered, the unnamed ATAs were first only numbered and originally designated ATRs - the "R" being the rescue designator. However, the designator conflicted with the woodenhulled ATR steam tugs which were being built strictly for the rescue role with enlarged sick bays and extensive salvage capability. As a result, in May 1944, the new steel-hulled 143-footers were all re-designated ATA, or Ocean Tugs, Auxiliary.


Quickly assigned to greatly expanded Naval Service Squadrons, the long-legged new tugs were rapidly dispatched to the far corners of the world where they found a plethora of duties awaiting them, many of which were not envisioned in their original design parameter. While towing or escorting damaged warships out of combat zone to areas where their charges could be properly repaired was their first priority, the hard-chugging ATAs also found themselves providing such unique services as recovering practice torpedoes, repairing buoys and navigational aids, towing targets, performing survey chores, tending to anti-torpedo nets, and environmental control functions in war-ravaged ports and harbors. At distant Pacific anchorages, they even provided such moral boosting services as showing the latest Betty Grable musical comedies to sailors whose smaller vessels lacked the broad-beamed sterns of the ATAs to accommodate full-size movie screens.

Although insufficiently armed to consider themselves combat vessels intended to shoot it out with the enemy, the ATAs nevertheless saw more than their share of action in both the Atlantic and Pacific, especially during the massive amphibious invasions where hundreds of warships and landing craft were concentrated in a relatively small area. In addition to combat losses, groundings were common on poorly charted beaches, reefs and atolls, as were inevitable often-disastrous collisions. Nor did the enemy differentiate between what size ships they chose to attack as the Allies stormed their shores. Many ATA crews "borrowed" .50-cal machine guns and 20mm cannon from damaged vessels to unofficially augment their ship's armament. There is no accurate tally of exactly how many enemy planes were downed by ATA gunners alone since various campaign histories tend to lump these scores, but it the record of USS Iuka (ATA-123) [Left] is any indication, the number must be in the hundreds. ATA123 made a name for itself at Okinawa when its fastshooting manually aimed 3-in gun scored a direct hit on a diving G4M Betty suicide bomber while its port 20mm smoked one water-skimming Zero, and then sent another cart-wheeling into the sea before it could crash into a troop-packed APA transport. Off the besieged Normandy coast of France on Shown here moored pierside at Aliaga, D-Day, 6 June 1944, ATA-125 didn't down any enemy planes, but it rescued enough half-drowned GIs and Turkey awaiting scrapping sailors and towed enough damaged landing craft to safety to win a Good Samaritan award. Wit cargo nets strung over her sides, ATA-125 and its low freeboard made it comparatively easy for its helpful crew to haul waterlogged survivors from sunken and swamped landing ATR-47 craft, often right out from under the nose of well-placed German ATA-125 commercial service as Bureau artillery at Utah and Omaha Beach. Amid a W ijsmuller Tug Utrecht underway in New York welter of erupting geysers from exploding Nazi harbor in 1960. shells, ricocheting bullets and flying shrapnel, this plucky little tug saved more than a 130 struggling swimmers before history's "longest day" was over. Despite suffering minor damage from shell splinters, ATA-125 remained close to the shell-wracked beachhead for the better part of D-Day doing a valiant, masterful job at what is was sent there to do - save lives and stricken ships. Laid down as ATR- 47 in November 1942, and commissioned as ATA-125 in August

1943, this hard-working tug would spend the better part of WW II in the Atlantic.


Good moral was usually one of the hallmarks of those young men who manned wartime tugs. Most were young reservists drafted right out of high school, given nine-weeks of boot camp, a week's leave, and sent to sea. Officers were, in the main, OCS graduates - "90-day wonders"- recruited out of accelerated college "V" programs condensed to provide the military with a sufficient flow of well-educated manpower. Sprinkled amongst each crew was a handful of experienced commissioned, warrant and enlisted regulars who knew the ropes and what was expected of the wartime Navy. In contrast to larger "spit and polish" ships such as cruisers, carriers, and battleships which admirals were known to habituate, the tugboat crewmen were a blue denim dungaree Navy where formal protocols were seldom observed. Small, wellintegrated crews where many were forced to wear two or more hats made for more informal attitudes since officers generally worked one-on-one with enlisted men. The very nature of a "tuggers" duties was grittier than most Naval functions for trying to save battle damaged ships was no easy chore. Damage or malfunctions had to be carefully assessed and proper emergency fixes applied. Fighting fires, rigging whipping tow lines in raging seas, working in neck-deep contaminated water amidst grotesquely disfigured wreckageentangled corpses was no place for the faint of heart, or stomach. The rescue task, often accomplished while still under enemy attack, and performed in the worst of working conditions, was typically a round-the-clock chore often carried out in rain-blinding squalls or under a blazing tropic sun. The job was never completed until the ship in tow, or being escorted, was safely secured in a harbor mooring, or dry-dock. Then too, most of an ATA's crew were specialist ratings like divers, machinists mates, firemen, welders, electricians - all skilled no-nonsense seamen not averse to danger or arduous challenges of their skills. Danger came in many forms and disguises that could not always be readily anticipated. Take the spankingnew USS Kamia (ATA-184) for instance. Her crew assumed it was just another routine barge tow the bright, sunny morning they steamed into the small harbor of Hui in the Russell Islands in July 1945. Just as the tug began to turn to pick up its tow of three trash-filled barges off the main jetty, 26-tons of high explosives unexpectedly detonated at a nearby shore-side ammo dump. Luckily, the tug's bow faced the explosion so its USS Kalmia (ATA-184), commissioned in November 1944, pilot house absorbed most of the blast's narrowly escaped destruction in an accidental detonation of 26 main shock wave, blowing out several tons of explosives at a remote island ammo dump. She reof the tug's pilot house window ports. commissioned in April 1952 for the Korean W ar and in 1977 transferred to the Columbian Navy as the Bahia Utria. A dozen crewmen were knocked off their feet and injured - none too

seriously - and other that minor damage from falling debris and battered ear drums, the tug was able to complete its assignment with a breezy, air-conditioned pilot house.


RM/1C Bill Ade, now a long-retired FBI technician living in Las Vegas, served on ATA's in both WW II and Korea. "I would not have traded my time on tugs for all the tea in China," Bill laughs. "Sure it was often difficult and tiresome duty filled with lots of anxiety, especially when we had a heavy tow on the wire, but the camaraderie of the crew could not be beaten. You could talk to an officer at any time, and generally felt you were part of a tight-knit team that could accomplish any mission given us - and some were real dillies! But for all of our good natured grousing, no job was too big, or too tough. We took them all. We'd have a large unmanned vessel like a decommissioned 10,000-ton cruiser wildly wiggling around behind us in a sea so heavy at times we swore our tow was ahead of, and not behind us. But we always made it through and never once failed to deliver our tow on schedule. Sure, there were long periods when the work was dull drudgery, but the moments of high excitation made up for the occasional boredom. Worst of all was the perpetual shortage of chow on long hauls. The cramped ATA's had very limited storage space, so fresh food ran out in less than a week. Many was the trip when we had to content ourselves eating frankfurters and beans three times a day. Best of all, was our collective sense of relief and accomplishment when a tow was successfully delivered."

This oblique view of USS Unadilla (ATA-182) towing a target off Hawaii in 1945 reveals the auxiliary tug's crowded decks and minor wartime weaponry of a 3-in/50 on the bow and 20mm AA guns abaft each bridge wing. Space was too limited for 40mm Bofors, which led to ATA crews adding illegally acquired guns to bolster their defenses, especially against kamikazes. Unadilla was awarded two Battle Stars fro the Korean W ar; was scrapped in 1996.

Nor was tug duty all work and no play. Bill recalls how his ATA would often troll for

sharks using hand-made barbed hooks while underway with a tow. Every crewman was eager for souvenirs and when a roving shark took the bait thoughtfully provided by the cooks, the deadly marauder would be reeled in, given a burst from a Tommy gun to be sure its fight was over, and then cut into tasty fresh shark filets while its teeth were honed into souvenir necklaces. Card and crap games provided other forms of entertainment while occasional boxing matches, swimming, or baseball games offered other forms of amusement. Still, discussions about what was then known as the fair sex - women - were perennial favorite topics. As WW II drew to a close, the spunky little ATA's had earned a well-deserved reputation as workhorses that made life a lot easier for the hard-pressed fleet tugs. Japan's formal surrender on 2 September 1945 saw the USS Sciota (ATA-205) present in Tokyo Harbor among the 253 American ships that witnessed the official conclusion of the Pacific War. Luckily, only one of the class had been lost - ATR-98 (scheduled to become ATA-171) sank in a collision off the Azores in 1944. However, the end of the shooting did not bring so much as a pause in the activities of the every-busy ATAs. While literally thousands of warship were hurriedly decommissioned, many ATAs remained overseas assisting in functions necessary to help clear harbors of sunken wreckage to get them back in working order. Eventually, by 1947, most of the ATAs were decommissioned, but a few remained on duty performing their every-needed towing functions. By 1955, those that remained on the rolls were all given names, mostly of Indian tribes, the 143-footers as a class being dubbed Sotoyomos. To better appreciate what these muscle-bound workhorses did, a brief review of a tug's operational history is USS Allegheny (ATA-179) seen dockside at Bayonne, New Jersey, in very illuminating. Lets take March 1967 while en route from Bermuda to Pearl Harbor towing the unwieldy General Dynamics Monster Buoy. The stalwart tug encountered USS Navigator (ATA-121), several fierce storms during her 4,642-mi journey, but delivered her tow on for example. Laid down by schedule. Gulfport Boiler and Welding Works on 10 September 1944, she commissioned at Port Arthur, Texas on 1 January 1945. With her paint still wet, she wasted no time working up her brand-new crew and cut her eye teeth on a long first trans-ocean tow of two YTB's from Coco Solo, Texas, to Pearl Harbor. Arriving there early in March, the ATA swapped her yard tugs for large pontoon barges and steamed west for Okinawa. All went well and, and in early June, she headed for Leyte where towing assignments took her to New Guinea, New Hebrides, and finally back to Okinawa on 30 August. The war soon over, the now-seasoned auxiliary headed for Kyushu, Japan, where she served with ComMinPac 7 moving wrecks and shepherding minesweepers busy clearing up the thousands of mines laid by B-29s and American submarines. After conducting hydrographic

surveys off Sasebo, Omura, and Nagasaki in November and December, ATA-121 was detached from the Mine Force and returned to assisting stormdamaged ships and towing chores for the occupation forces. In March 1946, her war-weary, home-sick crew rejoiced when orders were received to turn her bow eastward for the Panama Canal to join the 16th (Reserve) Fleet and ultimate decommissioning in October at Orange, Texas. Having steamed the equivalent of three times around the equator, the veteran tug was assigned the name USS Navigator in July 1948, and soon moved to Mobile, Alabama, where she ATA-180, seen at Mare Island in 1946, shows the enormous clutter of towing and salvage gear carried by these small hard-working vessels. Note, unlike their remained until being big ATF cousins, they carried no anti-submarine weaponry. scrapped late in the 1970s. In the meantime, dozens of moth-balled ATAs were transferred to SEATO and NATO Navies while two were given to the US Coast Guard in 1959 with the USS Bagaduce (ATA-194) becoming USCGC Modoc (WMEC-194) and USS Wampanoag (ATA-202) becoming USCGC Comanche (WMEC202). Only slightly altered for the Coast Guard role, they shipped their wartime armament in favor of single 20mm/80 on the foredeck. Both enjoyed long and active careers carrying the Coast Guard flash, and after countless headline-making rescues and drug intercepts were retired in 1970/1980. Today, Comanche is being restored as a museum vessel in the Seattle area. While the numbers of ATA's in active service were slowly diminished between the Korean and Vietnam Wars, 16 ATAs were still on the Navy rolls in 1972 as the Vietnam conflict began to wind down. Few of these carried any appreciable defensive weaponry, and those that did made do with a pair of Oerlikons, or a bow-mounted 40mm. Others held in reserve were gradually sold to civilian towing firms. Scripps Institute of Oceanography operated ex-ATA-180 as a La Jolla, California research ship for more than a decade from 1949 on and many other sisters steamed under the house banners of distinguished commercial firms like Moran Towing. Still others went to work for foreign concerns. All ultimately were scrapped after decades of tough commercial service. By late 1972, the last active-duty Sotoyomos were decommissioned

with USS Sagamore (ATA-208) soon transferring to the Dominican Navy and USS Catawba (ATA-210) and USS Salish (ATA-187) going to Argentine. So ended the unsung careers of a fleet of Naval tugs which provided yeoman duty to the land of their origin long after many other vessels had been retired and forgotten. A unique type of service vessel manned by devoted crews who appreciated the tug's built-in ruggedness, they live on now only as a handful of vessels struggling to be preserved as memorialized museum ships. Remember them well, for they served with proud distinction.


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