In 1940 war was inevitable. In July of that year Congress passed the Two Ocean Naval Expansion Act which promised to enlarge the U.S. Navy three hundred percent by 1944. Soon ship building programs began; over a year before the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941
A new Net Navy using odd looking ships with horns on their bows was about ready to emerge. There were few who knew what they did and even fewer who understood how they did it. They were one of the rugged work type ships of the US Navy. Their duties were to lay submarine, torpedo and individual ships nets, as well as to maintain them.
Nets were laid in harbors anchorages and around large ships to serve as protection against submarine and torpedo attacks. When not performing Net duties these ships were also used as cargo, salvage, buoy and tug vessels' as well as in the performance of other duties.
An author of a World War II book entitled "Pacific Victory 1945" describes these ships as "The Cinderella s of the Navy." In the words of one Navy man with twenty years experience at sea, they were "the most useful and versatile of all minor Navy craft."
There were 87 of these ships built during World War II, however, five of the higher numbered wooden ships were built for Great Britain under Lend Lease and another five in this series were converted to Auxiliary Tugs. The remaining 77 ships were designated as AN's (Auxiliary Net Layers, but mostly known as Net Tenders). Note: Originally they were designated as YN's (Yard Net Tenders).
About a third of the crew were on the deck force working with nets, booms and winches. It was dangerous work. A parted sling or shackle could mean tragedy. The work requirements were agility and seamanship. Agility was useful to one and all when anchors were released and heavy chain started running crazily between the horns. Seamanship of the "marlin spike" kind, dealing with blocks, tackles, knots and splicing, was vital to the enlisted man. The following is a quote from Charles Theobald, ex Boatswain Mate on the Yew (AN-37):
"I got the AKA-30 (Attack Cargo Ship) out of Providence, R.I. Dec 29, 1944 and there were four Boatswain Mates from the Battleship Nevada. They put two years on board her and were lost when it came to working on deck. They couldn't tie their shoelaces, but they could sure play a serenade on the damn pipe (Boatswain whistle) I had four ex Net Tender sailors and they carried those guys. They were surprised that I taught anybody that wanted to learn; how to splice wire rope. On the Yew we all knew how to splice as we needed it to make our job easier."
Net Tenders had duty in the icy North Atlantic harbors like Argentia, Newfoundland where the ice chunks floated about as they worked; In the Aleutians where storms would sweep the nets out to sea for the Net Tenders to retrieve; and in the Pacific where it was so hot that the steel decks would have to be hosed down so they could work.
The Net Navy is history now; the ships long ago scrapped as advances in underwater detection technology did away with their need. The men who manned these ships deserve to be honored for their dedication to a vital, but unsung aspect of the World War II era.
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