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USS Buckeye (AN-13)
USS Buckeye (YN-8) (1942)
Buckeye (YN-8) (1941 - 1942)

Net Tender Stories

Written by Glenn Paulson USS Anaqua (AN-40)

Story #2 Vol. VIII USS Buckeye AN-13

We have had some contact with crew members from 40 Net Tenders that were built just before and during WWII. No contacts at all from the other 37 except for the DANFS (Dictionary of American Navy Fighting Ships) histories. Some of these are very brief, others a little more detailed.

For now we will pick one that we are a little familiar with, USS Buckeye AN-13, and try and make a story about it.

USS Buckeye AN-13 was built and put in service at Portland, Oregon on September 5, 1941. She tended nets near Seattle until transferred to Dutch Harbor, Alaska in the fall of 1942. Buckeye tended nets, conducted diving and salvage operations and laid moorings at Dutch Harbor and Attu until June 1944.

On February 26, 1944 the wooden Net Tender USS Ailanthus AN-38 ran aground at Tanaga Island near Adak. She was declared a total loss. The crew was rescued and lived in Seabee tents and given temporary duty while awaiting further assignment. Several crew members were later assigned to USS Buckeye at Attu, who was scheduled to go to Seattle for repairs. . Included were Allan Miles 2nd Class Cook and Irving Trandum, Chief Boatswain Mate. Allan attended several of our reunions. Irving’s son Bill attended our recent reunion in Branson.

Buckeye was under repair in Seattle from July 24th until September 11th. She then made a trip to Pearl Harbor and returned to the Naval Net Depot at Tiburon California on October 12th. Tom Fike returned to Tiburon, in late 1944 from duty in the Pacific on Silverbell AN-51. In January Tom received his first command assignment as a Net Tender skipper on Buckeye. He had previously served as an officer on USS Palm AN-28 before he was assigned to USS Silverbell AN-51. Tom has attended all our All Net Tender Reunions.

He received his orders one day and the very next day Buckeye shoved off for Manus Island in the South Pacific. After leaving Pearl Harbor their next port of call for fueling, repairs and provisions was Funa Futi, a atoll of the Ellice Islands near the equator. Sailing time was to be 10 days. The atoll was 3 miles long and 100 yards wide, just a little bitty fly speck in the enormous Pacific Ocean. There was not a single landfall until they sailed into Funa Futi. The only aid in the sailing directions was to look for a “Conspicuous Tree.” After being underway for 10 days Tom was getting nervous. He went down to his cabin and started to write a letter to his parents to explain the problem that he couldn’t let any of his officers or crew see or feel. He then received a call from the bridge with the words “Land ho”. What do you see asked Tom. The answer “A conspicuous tree.” Much relieved Tom rushed to the bridge and put the glasses to the tree. Sure enough there it stood, like an umbrella towering some 30 or 40 feet over the other trees.

Before being ordered to the Philippines later in 1945 DANFS history indicates that Buckeye was at Manus, Admiralty Islands, Hollandia and New Guinea.

At Leyte in the Philippines Buckeye did some net repair and maintenance work. After that they received orders to go to Manila possibly for harbor duties. One day the higher brass notified Tom that they would have to take aboard some specialists to install Sonobuoys off of Corregidor at the entrance to Manila Bay.. Tom was adamant in telling them that he did not have any room for anymore men on his ship. The high brass prevailed. The Sonobuoys were installed. After Tom told us this story in the hospitality room at the Branson reunion I failed to ask him how he squeezed these guys into the ship. Possibly he had to get temporary assignments off the ship for some of his crew.

When this assignment was completed Buckeye received orders to proceed to the loading dock at the Naval Supply Depot at Cavite. When they arrived at Cavite they knew that the dock could only hold 3 vessels at the dock itself but 3 liberty ships were tied up at the dock and 2 were tied up to the 3 ships. Between the 2 layers of ships there was about a ship’s length of space unoccupied. Tom felt he could maneuver into the space if the ship alongside would take their lines. They headed in on a 45 degree angle. There was no turning back now. Through the megaphone Tom hollered “Please receive our lines, we are coming aside.” One of the sailors hollered back “Can’t do it, Mac, we’re on our lunch hour.” Tom’s answer was “That’s great! Pass the word to set more places for dinner because as you can see, one way or another we will be aboard..” That did it! Off they hustled and shortly they shoe-horned the Buckeye alongside that Liberty ship neat and quick.

Tom’s orders said that they were to proceed to the Cavite Repair Depot to “load to capacity navigational equipment.” All the port director could tell Tom was that after loading he was to join a convoy going south and east and that he was suppose to leave the convoy at a certain point and proceed unaccompanied to Biak, a location below the equator (a distance of approximately 700 nautical miles) Close to the loading berth was a junk pile of buoys, chains and moorings, no sense of order to it, just a huge pile. They loaded in the hold and secured what else they could on the forecastle deck.

To make the story short they made the long sea trip to Biak. When they got there they learned that the trip should have been canceled, so once again they were underway back to the Cavite Repair Depot in the Philippines to unload their junk pile of buoys, chains and moorings. A good example of wartime SNAFU.

Tom and his crew did exactly what they were ordered to do. The mess up in procedure and communication was caused by the powers to be in the Philippines.

Aug 6th and 8th 1945. Atomic bombs dropped on Japan
Aug 14th 1945. Japan accepted surrender.
September 2, 1945. Official surrender by Japan in Tokyo Bay

Tom Fike and some members of his crew were eligible for discharge based on the point system. Buckeye would have a new commanding officer.

After repairs at Subic Bay in late 1945 Buckeye returned to Manila Bay to serve as a harbor entrance control vessel. She returned to Subic Bay on April 14, 1946 to assist in the inactivation of vessels there. On 17 July 1946 she ran aground in Subic Bay but was freed 12 days later by Elder AN-20 and towed to Alva Dock for repairs. Buckeye went into reserve at Subic Bay in March1947.

In 2003 Dave Engman, who served on USS Butternut AN-9 gave us a story that indicated that USS Buckeye AN-13 was taken out of the Reserve Fleet and was being used by the navy at Pearl Harbor. She was no longer USS Buckeye with a hull designation. Only a lowly title “Salvage Training Hulk.” Here is Dave’s story.

Quote--I saw Buckeye in Pearl Harbor in the late 1970’s. She was being used as a Salvage Training Hulk by MDSU-1 (Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit) As a reserve officer/diver my unit was there for 2 weeks of annual training. The Buckeye was also used for beach gear training and fire fighting at sea.. In the latter she was set adrift with fires burning in her staterooms and salvage ships would come alongside and put the fires out. Her predecessor the Butternut, my ship, was used in the same manner. Butternut became so ravaged from this training that she was taken out to sea and used for target practice by the DD’s. They said that the Butternut did not go down easily, even though all hatches were open and holes were cut in the transverse bulkheads. I am not sure of the fate of the Buckeye. For all I know she could be alongside the Butternut. Unquote…

Just recently while surfing the internet I discovered that the navy was still using Buckeye as a Training Hulk in 1987.

In the latter part of the 1980’s Four 255 foot Rescue Salvage Vessels were being built for the navy by Peterson Builders in Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin. . After being commissioned 2 of them sailed to Pearl Harbor for months of training before receiving deployment assignments. They were USS Safeguard ARS-50 and USS Salvor ARS-52. The following is taken from their Chronology records for 1986 and 1987.

USS Safeguard ARS-50.…Year 1986 March 03-07 Retrieval of beach gear using the ex USS BUCKEYE as the stranded vessel April 02-03 For the off ship firefighting phase OPEVAL observers lit fires on board BUCKEYE, while Safeguard approached and engaged the fire through the use of on board fire monitors and firefighting teams.

USS Salvor ARS-52----Year 1987 March 02-06 The salvage hulk EX BUCKEYE was beached in Pearl Harbor. Salvor laid two legs of beach gear, patched and pumped out EX BUCKEYE and using hydraulic pullers, extracted the ship from the beach. August 31 The crew gained experience in off-ship firefighting by putting out a fire on the EX-BUCKEYE at sea.

Orv Schlagcheck from Clear Lake Minnesota, who was at our Branson Reunion, served aboard Buckeye at one time as well as on the wooden Net Tender USS Catclaw AN-60

Story #2 Volume IX Funafuti

An Atoll is a ringlike Coral Island (with small islets) and reef that nearly or entirely encloses a lagoon. Funafuti is a tiny atoll, sometimes not even shown on the map ,that is located northeast of Australia in the South Pacific

Unknown to most people Funafuti actually had a lot to do with the beginning of the drive to recapture the Philippines from the Japanese in WWII.

Tom Fike, our reunion skipper, might not even have been aware of this as he was chugging along at 8 or 9 knots to this little speck in the Pacific Ocean in February1945. This was Tom’s first trip as commanding officer of a Net Tender USS Buckeye AN-13. Before we get back to Tom we will have to give you some background history.

In late 1943 and early 1944 two large amphibious and air forces were moving on a Island Hopping route from the South Pacific to liberate the Philippines and continue on to Japan if necessary

The Central Pacific 5th Fleet under Admiral Spruance, with Admiral Turner commanding the Amphibious Fleet, began at Tarawa in the Gilbert Island and continued on to the Marshall Islands, Mariana Islands and ended up at the Palau Islands. The Southwest Pacific 7th Fleet under Admiral Kincaid and General McArthur began in the Solomon Islands and continued on to the Admiralty Islands, Northern New Guinea Coast and ended up at Morotai Island in the Moluccas

Beginning in October 1944. the two forces from Palau and Morotai plus the 3rd Fleet under Admiral Halsey combined and continued on to liberate the Philippines.

Now back to Funafuti. Funafuti Atoll, containing 33 islets, is a very narrow sweep of land encircling a large lagoon 6.94 miles long by 5.40 miles wide. Today only 3 islets are inhabited. During WWII it was part of the British owned Ellice Islands, but now it is part of the Island Nation of Tuvalu. Japanese occupied the Gilbert Islands to the north. Not being sure if there were Japanese on Funafuti or not our Marines made an unopposed amphibious lading there on Oct 2, 1942. Included with the marines were a group of Navy Seabees to construct a airstrip and a Navy Scouting Squadron with four Kingfisher observation planes, later followed by Navy PBY “Black Cat” Catalina planes and Navy SBD Dauntless Dive Bombers.

So now why was Funafuti so important?

In early 1943 the Japanese began air attacks on Funafuti that may have destroyed some of the vegetation and trees. The Marines then brought in a squadron of F4F Wildcat fighters to defend the air attacks. During 13 months ending in November 1943 Japanese bombers struck Funafuti nine times,

Funafuti gave the Allied a protected rear area as they prepared for Operation Galvanic, the invasion of Tarawa in the Gilberrt Islands. The USAF stationed two B-24 Liberator heavy bomber groups on Funafuti and started shelling Tarawa in preparation for the amphibious landing November 20, 1943 By then the Funafuti air force had wiped out the Japanese air force in the Gilberts, which was a necessary preliminary step before the Marines could move in and take Tarawa

Once the Allies had taken Tarawa they sent hundreds of planes from Tarawa over the Marshalls to knock out Japanese planes and airfields. Then our landing forces moved in and captured Kwajalein and Eniwetok, two of the best harbors in the whole Pacific.

By the middle of 1944 as the fighting moved farther north toward Japan the Americans began to withdraw from Funafuti and by the time the war ended in 1945 nearly all of them had departed. After the war the airfield was developed into a commercial airport.

During this period from January to August in 1944 thirty newly commissioned wooden Net Tenders were leaving 6 shipyards in U.S. Also 5 Net Cargo Ships were going into service. Most of them had assignments at places following the 5th fleet Island Hopping route between the Gilbert Island invasion and the Palau Islands and the 7th fleet Island Hopping Route between the Admiralty Islands and Morotai Island in the Moluccas. Some of them would be laying nets while fighting on the beaches was still in progress.

The Philippines had been secured and preparations were being made for the invasion of Iwo Jima as we go back to Tom Fike and USS Buckeye AN-13 at sea approaching the area of the Ellice Islands, Most of you have heard some of the following tale

Having previously served as an officer on 2 other Net Tenders Tom received orders to take command of USS Buckeye AN-13,. The next day he received orders to take the ship to Manus with stops at Pearl Harbor and Funafuti. The voyage to Pearl Harbor was uneventful, but the next 10 days was to take him to Funafuti Island that was just a little speck in the enormous Pacific Ocean with no landfalls between and they would be traveling alone, The only sailing directions he had was to look for a “conspicuous tree”

On the tenth day Tom was getting nervous. They were using celestial navigation and although “dead reckoning” courses were being confirmed satisfactorily by star shots, no conspicuous tree was in sight,.

Tom went down to his cabin and started to write a letter to his parents to explain the problem that he couldn’t let any of his officers or crew see or feel. While doing this he received a call from the bridge; “Land ho” What do you see said Tom. Reply: A conspicuous tree was the reply.

Presumably they entered the lagoon for fuel, repairs and provisions before heading for Manus.,The crew of Buckeye probably weren’t impressed with Funafuti and did not realize that this place was the beginning of the great U.S. advance in the Central Pacific

Buckeye would later go to Manus in the Admiralty Islands and enter the magnificent deep landlocked Seeadler Harbor where Tom Fike’s former ship USS Silverbell AN-51 assisted in laying the net line from June to August in 1944 with USS Cinnamon AN-50 and Net Cargo Ship USS Indua AKN-1. Later USS Buckeye would go to the Philippines via Hollandia, New Guinea.

Funafuti today:
Funafuti only has about 150 tourists a year and they are not really set up for tourists.

The 2002 census population was 4,492 which is far to many people for a atoll that is only about 20 meters (21 yards) at the narrowest part and 400 meters (437 yards) at the widest part. People often sleep on the airport runway to avoid overcrowded and hot modern houses. A shortage of land on Funafuti has led to housing being built around and on the rubbish-filled pits from which coral was evacuated to build the airfield in WWII

The shape of the atoll is such that there is only a east and west rim. The islets on the west rim are unoccupied. The population is all on the east rim on 3 islets. Fongafale the largest has the airport, hotel, government offices, police, post office bank and church.

Air flights arrive 2 days a week on the former WWII airstrip,.

The Vaiaku Lagi Hotel has 18 rooms,. The 2nd floor gives visitors a beautiful view of the lagoon, the greatest attraction at Funafuti. Another attraction is the excellent sand beaches for swimming and snorkeling.

A short distance from the hotel is the Women’s Handicraft Center where beautiful necklaces and other crafted goods made locally are for sale.

The economy suffers from its remoteness. Virtually the only jobs that pay a steady wage are with the government. Fishing remains the primary activity

An important location for a few months during WWII, but now a struggling community on a tiny speck of island in the South Pacific.

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