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How a Williwaw ended the assignment of an Aleutian Net Tender
By 1944 the 32 Aloe Class Steel Net tenders had been in service since 1941 and 1942. In 1944 thirty new wooden Net tenders in the Ailanthus Class were being built to supplement the steel vessels. Ten (AN-38 through AN-47) were being built at Everett, Washington, Ten (AN-48 through AN-57) at Stockton, California and the remaining ten at New Bern North Carolina, Rockland Maine, Wilmington Delaware and Slidell, Louisiana.
Nearly all of them were built because of the huge Allied offensive drive in the Pacific from the Gilbert Islands in the Western Pacific to Japan.
In February 1944 USS Ailanthus AN-38 was the first wooden Net Tender leaving the shipyard in Everett, Washington bound for the Aleutians Islands of Alaska. At that time there were 3 Steel Net Tenders up there to maintain the nets. They were Boxwood AN-8, Buckhorn AN-14 and Mulberry A-27. Ailanthus was available for net maintenance duties, however it seems as if she was sent up there more for utility work. Her assignment would be very brief.
In late February Ailanthus was transporting a load of steel mats for the landing strip on Tanaga Island near Adak. The weather turned bad and while making preparations to unload its cargo Ailanthus went aground , causing so much damage that the ship was declared a total loss.
Now they needed a replacement ship for Ailanthus. The next one leaving the shipyard at Everett was Bitterbush AN-39. However she was sailing for San Francisco about the same time that Ailanthus went aground and was to have duty there for 9 months before leaving for the Western Pacific.
The next one coming out of Everett was my ship Anaqua AN-40. After shakedown training and temporary duty repairing nets between Seattle and Bremerton she was assigned Aleutian duties replacing Ailanthus. Like Ailanthus she was given utility duties instead of Net Maintenance like being useful for whatever services she could perform.
From the end of May until the middle of October in1944 Anaqua had various assignments working out of Dutch Harbor going to a number of places in the Aleutian chain and long trips up in the Bering Sea to the Pribilof and St Matthew Islands. In addition to hauling cargo she laid buoys, moorings and performed salvage duties.
During the first part of October ship returned from Cold Bay with a load of net gear and unloaded it at the ABD Net Depot Dock at Dutch Harbor and tied up at the Ballyhoo dock, that we called home.
On Tuesday October 10th we began taking cargo aboard. At 1255 ship was underway for Akutan arriving there at 1745. Cargo was unloaded. We tied up alongside a Russian Freighter at the fuel dock.
On Wednesday October 11th at 1227 crew commenced dressing ship with mooring (concrete clumps and buoy) At 1502 ship was underway and dropped clumps and buoy mooring at designated area. We were underway for Dutch Harbor at 1550 arriving there at 1850.
On Thursday and Friday October 12th and 13th cargo was taken aboard.. At 1250 on the 13th ship was underway for Cold Bay with a stop at Akutan. Arrival at Akutan was 1772. Cargo was unloaded and ship was underway for Cold Bay at 2020.
On Saturday October 14th at 1011 ship anchored off Kaslakan Point near Cold Bay. At 1030 a working party of 8 men and Lt Williams shoved off in our 26 ft Motor Launch to recover buoys off Kaslakan Point,. Commenced loading buoys on ship at 1145. Ship was underway for Cold Bay and tied up on T Dock at 1705.
On Sunday October 15th at 1655 ship was underway to Dutch Harbor. At 1945 the Umga Island light was at a distance of 2.4 miles. Under normal sailing condition we should have arrived Dutch Harbor about 1100 the next morning. Instead at that time we were still only a short distance out of Cold Bay fighting rough seas.
Coming out of Cold Bay I had the mid Radio watch (0000-0400) Seas were quite choppy until about 2000 and ship was running at itís normal speed of 11.5 knots at 190 RPMS. After that the sea became very rough and by 2030 speed was down to 9.6 knots at 150 RPMS.
I checked the Clinometer needle before going on duty. It indicated rolls of mostly 45 degrees but sometimes reaching 52 degrees. Shortly after going on radio watch the large wooden cabinet broke loose from the bulkhead, crushing my chair with me having to jump up on the telegraph desk.
Ship log indicated that on Monday October 16th at 0330 the Umga Island light was 3 miles away, so we hadnít hardly made any headway since 1945 on the 15th. We were moving at about 2 knots at 100 RPMS. Log read that ship was rolling regularly at 45 degrees.
In the South Pacific ships might be encountering typhoons. Up here in the North Pacific and Bering sea we were encountering one of their vicious Williwaw storms caused by the collision of warm Japanese currents with frigid waters of the Bering Sea.
All sea watches had been called in. The galley was closed. Only about 8 men remained on duty in the engine room, radio room and bridge. Our body systems had been accustomed to rough seas but under these conditions no one felt well. When not on duty we remained in our bunks rolling with the ship unable to sleep. To keep from getting dehydrated we ate a few crackers, fruit and drank water.
At 0800 on the 16th logs indicated that we hadnít made much headway, still being only 5.2 miles from Umga Island. To avoid confusion I might mention that there is a larger island named Unga that is further west on the Aleutian chain. The 0800 log also mentions that we were still rolling regularly at 45 degrees with the wind at 40 knots with a 25 foot sea.
At 1600 winds increased from 50 to 65 mph At 2000 we were at the height of the storm. Winds increased further with gusts up to 90 mph and ship rolling 50 degrees and above. (For some reason Lt (jg) Young, the Officer of the Deck used mph instead of knots to record wind speed in his entry. 1 knot = 15077945 mph.) Another scare during this hectic period was the loss of all ships power from 2045 to 2100.
On Tuesday 17 October there were still 30 foot seas, but by 0400 the sea was subsiding slightly. By 0700 speed was up to 5 knots and engines at 140 RPMS.
This means that we had spent about 36 hours off the tiny island of Umga just holding our own, bouncing around in that one area until we started moving again about 0800 on Tuesday 17 October.
The notation in log indicates that at 0738 we were enroute to Unimak Pass and Dutch Harbor with winds steady between 30 and 40 knots and sea decreasing to 15 feet. By 1600 we had reached our normal speed of 11.5 knots at 190 RPMS.
At 2050 we entered the channel to Dutch Harbor and passed through the nets that we never maintained. Thank you Lord for bringing us home. At 2110 on the bridge wing was our normally neat, but now unshaven and rumpled skipper James Tighe skillfully docking our ship to the Ballyhoo Dock, where she became moored with 3 five inch and 3 seven inch lines. A normal 18 hour trip that took 52 hours. Our battered seaworthy little ship brought us home safely. Our good cooks had prepared a nice meal for us and we were once again a happy group of sailors.
This ended our Aleutian assignment. Our ship was unfit for further service. Ship crew and shore ship repair unit would make temporary repairs of the storm damage that included leaking decks. Our next destination would be Kirkland Washington to the Houghton Shipyard on Lake Washington for major repairs.
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