WERE THE 255's EVER SUPPOSED TO BE 355's?
by Jack A. Eckert
The answer is NO. That story always traveled wherever the Ships of the Owasco class traveled. It certainly was plausible because they only had a single screw, one turbo generator and two boilers. It was almost as if a whole section was chopped out of amidships where the machinery spaces are.
What really happened was they were originally to be updated but austere copies of the 327' Campbell Class. They were to be 315 feet long. There was an objection by the Great Lakes ship builders of the time that at 319 feet they would be to big to get off the lakes and that effectively eliminated them from the bidding. At the bidding of Congress and to be fair the Coast Guard redesigned them to be 255'. The irony of the situation is none of them were ever built there on the Lakes. They were to be built to replace the 250' class Cutters that were lend leased to Great Britain prior to WWII. To make them an all purpose "Cruising Cutter" as they were designated at the time it was decided to ice strengthen them. The ribs were closer together and the hull plating forward was thicker. An eight foot designed drag was built in. The single screw configuration was selected because it wouldn't be subject to the same damage as two screws mounted higher would be. Because it was anticipated that it would carry either a seaplane (or later a helicopter), an amidships break was made between the deckhouses.
They had pilot house control installed but even as advanced as the machinery plant was at the time it turned out to be impractical as the boilers couldn't respond to the speed changes as fast as they were made from the pilot house.
The machinery plant, a turbo electric, semi-automated, AC drive, top fired boilers with automatic combustion controls and water regulation, was ahead of it's time. The fuel consumption per nautical mile was two thirds that of the 327'.
It is surmised that the experience of the German Navy and their emphasis on damage control influenced the designers. Everything was up and over with water tight bulkheads to the main deck everywhere but amidships.
A bonus was added when chilled water air conditoning was added to the ships for warm water operation. Unfortunately it only worked when the ship was underway. Even though they had a lot of ordinance installed, none ever saw wartime service.
They were built with a low priority during WWII and decommissioned quickly thereafter. One by one they were recommissioned during and after the Korean War. They had better sea keeping qualities than the Edsall class 306' DE's the Coast Guard borrowed from the Navy during that period. All in all a good ship but never designed to be 355' long.
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