USCGC MOHAWK: The Last Of Her Tribe
(Part Two)by J.C. Carney
With Good News At The End Of The Article
“Mohawk and her sisters, all younger than ten years of age, were the backbone of the Atlantic Fleet. It is extremely difficult to find a record of any American convoy that did not have one of the “Tribal-Class” on escort duty. They were small in size, yet totally competent.”
GREENLAND PATROL AND CONVOYS (Cont.)
Even with a world war raging, rescues went on as before. But now, besides just worrying about sea conditions and water temperatures, the ship’s personnel had to worry about enemy submersibles lurking; hoping for a kill. Yet, to a Coast Guard cutter’s crew, this too became (somewhat) routine. And, at the end of November 1942, USS/USCGC Mohawk found herself aiding in two such rescues.
On the afternoon of 27 November, Mohawk stood out of St. Johns, Newfoundland, in company of Algonquin, under orders to search for survivors of the British freighter SS Barberry, torpedoed by U-663 on the 26th. Both cutters arrived in the search area (about 250 miles northeast of St. Johns) at 2020 [28th] and commenced searching. At 2320 “Mo” spotted a lifeboat containing twenty survivors of Barberry. And, at 2335, all survivors had been taken aboard; the lifeboat sunk by gunfire. Meanwhile, Algonquin covered, looking for any U-boat that might be still lurking in the area. The two cutters then spent the remainder of the day searching for survivors of another ship, which also had been torpedoed; returning to St. Johns at 0400 on 2 December, 1942
Mohawk was again called out on 20 December on a local “SOS” near Argentia, Newfoundland. The call read: “SS Maltran [possibly Alcoa Guard, logs are unclear] off west entrance Placentia Bay, steering gear disabled . . . rudder jammed . . . drifting. . . . Demand immediate assistance and immediate answer.” Mohawk arrived at 2007 to investigate Maltran (?) situation. The USS/USCGC Travis was on-scene and asked the Mohawk to assist with the burden, and by 0315 she was helping Travis tow the disabled vessel. Whilst towing, “Mo” experienced an accident onboard which turned into a minor miracle. Chief Robert G. Logan, BMC, due to extremely icy conditions, slipped, catching his hand in the hawser while attempting to pay the line around the towing bitt. The CO immediately backed engine, ordering the hawser cut to save the chief’s hand. Yet, upon a medical examination -- even after tons of strain had been put on the bitt -- no bones were broken and no flesh torn. Mohawk then requested a Navy tug and stood by the crippled ship until YO-38 arrived at noon. How the Boatswains Mate’s hand was not crushed is still talked about today: Even after all these years.
According to the Mohawk’s logs, she spent January 1943 in convoy, in company of the USS/USCGC Mojave and USS/USCGC Storis. The weather conditions were horrible with ships having to stop constantly for de-icing. The convoy’s crews were delighted when they finally anchored, on 3 February, at Little Placenta Bay harbor in Newfoundland with all of the ships appearing like miniature floating icebergs. Moreover, the crewmembers on “Mo” were ecstatic when at 0925 they received five bags of long overdue personal mail. The fact that they had to again get underway that day didn’t seem to bother them as they had mail to keep them motivated. Mohawk got underway at 1653 in company of cutters Travis, Arvik, and the USS Albatross. On 5 February 1943, Mohawk and company passed through a wide field of ice, which caused all ships to alter speeds. “Mo’s” log read: “Standing through ice field at various courses and speeds.” And, by 0530, they reached the end of the ice, allowing them to resume normal speed. On the 8th, she passed through the submarine nets in Boston, and upon docking, stood by to receive supplies. It was while moored that the crew received information on the sinking of the USAT Dorchester, a converted ocean liner utilized as a troop transport, which had been torpedoed on the 3rd February with the loss of a great number of her complement -- including four chaplains -- whose prodigious heroism in giving away their life jackets; thereby giving their lives that others might live, is still eminent today.
On a lighter note: At 0900 [the 12th], she was ordered underway the Coast Guard Yard, Curtis Bay, Maryland, where she moored on 13 February; wherein (much needed) leave and liberty was granted. One of her crew was even promoted! John S. Stamford, QM1 (now president of the Greenland Patrol Association), was given “The Hat” and on that day became Chief Quartermaster .
The word went around ship like wildfire: The Mohawk was finally to receive radar! She also, on 16th of February, formally received her new CO, LCDR Hans Slade, who had sailed on “Mo” to the Yard to get acclimated to the ship and her possible foibles. Soon, with radar installed, another [newer] sonar system emplaced, and all armament upgraded, the captain and crew breathed a sigh of relief. “Mo” now had “eyes” to see, even in fog, and could pick-up the enemy more easily. Ironically, even with maximum leave and side trips to Washington, DC, most of the crew were elated when she received orders back to Boston. Insomuch as many of the crewmembers remember Halifax, St. Johns, and Sydney as fair liberty ports, for one reason or another, they preferred Boston, as it represented their wartime home.
1 April 1943 found Mohawk again underway Greenland. On 3 April at 1718, she picked-up her first sonar contact and rushed to general quarters (GQ) where the crew remained until it was determined that the underwater “contact” was nothing more than a school of fish. General quarters secured. “Mo” (and her target fish) moved on, the ship arriving Bluie West One on the 5th, without further incident.
Insofar as liberty on Greenland was concerned, it wasn’t a lot like liberty back in the states. Still the crew found entertainment; diversions to combat boredom: Some, even employed pranks. One that Paul Pritchard, QM2, remembered involved sled dogs. If a team of dogs appeared on the dock, crewmembers would sneak pieces of meat up to the bridge wing and wait until the dog handler turned his back; whereupon, they would toss the meat amid the pack; starting a full-scale riot for the bewildered musher to set straight. What a mess! Nevertheless, there were, of course, more “civilized” activities -- movies for example. The guys utilized every trick imaginable to get rid of the bad “flicks,” including re-rating them! Didn’t always work though, especially if the other ship already saw the movie: But at least they tried. . . .
On-shore activities included church parties on Sundays. (Not really much fun, but something to do). Other recreation included base action: skiing, hiking, fishing, and even hunting with the natives. Still, even with the pastimes, the fact remained that Greenland duty was a morale buster. One crewmember even said that being sent out on Greenland weather patrol broke the monotony, it gave them something important to do.
Moreover, the U-boats were still very active. Yet, in May ‘43, the Germans sank 46 Allied ships, at a cost of 41 U-boats lost. GrossAdmiral Karl Donitz knew that the “Second Happy Time” was over, and Germany could not endure such losses for long. He reluctantly ordered his boats to vacate the North Atlantic . . . sending them [majority] to the Caribbean Sea; the rest to France for overhaul. The losses were mainly due to the Allied employment of Liberator bombers, and British escort carriers (old freighters turned into “flat tops”), whose planes played havoc on the surfaced U-boats. Also, depth charge-carrying PBY’s were taking their toll on the wolf packs as well.
Still the duties of the ships on Greenland Patrol and escort duties remained to be performed with impunity. The build-up towards the future attack by the allies on the axis powers in Europe continued on a much grander scale. The airfields on Greenland became a real priority; their use in greater demand than ever. The trawlers were, for the most part, relegated to “fjord patrols,” and the cutters to weather stations, due to the movement of the bombers arriving and flying from Greenland, and the constant requests for weather information by ships heading to England. Mohawk and her sisters, when not in convoy, also had to check different fjords for enemy intrusion. Also, the cutters took over the added responsibility of rescuing downed pilots and aiding damaged ships. (The weather patrols were, however, the foundation upon which the Coast Guard’s future weather patrol program “ocean station” [OS] was formed). Lt. Collaer reported that: “The need for weather information for European operations and air-sea rescue capabilities along with the growing number of escorts, led to the establishment of the weather patrol.” Ensign Fullerton (communications officer), recalls: “Weather station Charlie was 200 miles southeast of Cape Farewell. We’d stay on station ten (10) days reporting periodically (every two hours if memory serves me).” The relief vessels were different each time, as many had to return to the states for Yard work after one turn at “Charlie.” But “Mo” kept doing her turn on patrol. Mohawk would ultimately wind-up semi-permanently attached to this service in late 1943-1944, but presently was still playing “Mother Hen” to convoys trying to make it across the hostile North Atlantic: Much of the time, chopping tons of ice from her decks, just to keep afloat.
Although the U-boat danger had ebbed, the ship was still in dangerous waters. That fact hit home when the Mohawk learned on 18 June that her “twin-sister,” the Escanaba (WPG-77), had been sunk mysteriously on 13 June 1943, while escorting a convoy across the Atlantic. All but two enlisted men had been killed. Nonetheless, Radioman Bob Kouba was one very lucky fellow. He had been transferred to radio school from the “Esky,” just before the ill-fated trip. After completing school, Kouba was assigned to Mohawk. He remembers that although the crew membership had drastically increased aboard this, his new cutter, proximity did not necessarily breed familiarity. “We were not all friends . . . just shipmates,” Kouba says, adding, “We were separated in berthing area by rank and ratings. Watch standers were constantly coming on or going off watch.”
Life aboard “Mo” was not by any means gregarious, nor was it easy. Still the crew did what they could to ensure some comforts. The radio room was allowed to pipe big band music throughout ship on Saturdays (when not in a combat situation), and even published their own newspaper. Also, in the tradition of “Millie the Cat,” the ship acquired several mascots. A terrier type pup, ironically named “Arsuk,” was the last mascot aboard at the end of the war.
20 June 1943, Mohawk in company with the Storis, Tahoma, Northland, Laurel, Amorok, Active, Sandpiper and SS Belle Isle, left Argentia, Newfoundland. No sooner had the escorts cleared the nets when they rushed to general quarters as a sound contact had been picked up. “Mo” expended 9 Mark VI depth charges with no contact “hits” recorded. They secured from “GQ” at 1700. The escort vessels gathered their charges at St. Johns, Newfoundland on 22 June 1943 and convoy SG-26 was off and running. The convoy included: SS Nevada (US), SS Brush (US), SS Askot (Nor), SS Margaret Lykes (US), FP-19 (US Army) and SS Armstrong (US). Almost immediately after forming, the escorts picked-up another radar contact, and after piping general quarters, discovered that the contact was “friendly.” GQ was again secured, and, at 2400, they received air cover. Still the seas were running high; the winds blowing up a storm. The weather remained hostile plus, on the 25th, the master gyro compass suddenly cut out, and it took “Mo’s” technicians two hours to get the compass back online. The 26th found the convoy passing through [log entry], “scattered debris, including 2 life jackets, pieces of cork, and an emergency rations can.” A reminder of the serious nature of war.
On the 27th, the convoy encountered threatening ice fields. But as the convoy again had air cover, they, upon reaching “designated area” at 2345, split into two respective groups. No enemy contacts had been made and the convoy, moored at Groone Dal, Greenland at 0345. With the U-boats ordered south of the area, convoy crossings were becoming easier, except for the weather which even in the summer months could play hell with ships.
A month later, on 20 July, while the Mohawk -- along with cutters: Tampa, Mojave, Modoc, Algonquin, Tahoma, and Faunce, escorted convoy SG-28 into Kungnat Bay. No enemy problems with that convoy either. Mohawk was ordered detached to assist USAT Fairfax, which had found a pinnacle rock to hug. At 0230 “Mo” put a towing hawser aboard Fairfax and initiated a tow. However, at 0255, the hawser parted loudly, causing both crews to hurriedly seek shelter from the thrashing snake-like line. Nevertheless, at 0305, Mohawk put the hawser back aboard Fairfax; more slowly paying out the respliced line. At 0320, Mohawk anchored in 16 feet of water; thereafter awaiting high tide to again attempt to pull her off the rock. At high tide , the cutter -- putting a strain on the towline -- started pulling the transport, which finally reported she was afloat. A short time later, after hauling her hawser aboard, “Mo” escorted the Fairfax into port. Notwithstanding, the rest of ‘43 proved much of the same: convoys, an occasional Greenland weather patrol, and ice, ice, ice. . . .
By far the most compelling assistance case of the war for the ships of the Greenland Patrol took place in February 1944. The odyssey had started the month before. The misadventure the coal-fired, converted trawler, H.M.S. Strathella stands as a vivid testimonial to the savagery of the North Atlantic, and man’s will to survive.
Strathella, under command of Lt. Osmund R. Lee, with twenty-two men aboard, had been in convoy on 12 January 1944 when a fierce storm separated her from the other ships on the 13th. The storm started tearing pieces off the vessel and on the 14th they lost a small boat, two depth charges, and the galley funnel, which had been smashed by heavy seas. The next day they lost two of their guns, the wireless, and one signal lamp to green water. And, on the 16th, the incoming seas claimed the ship’s bridge log; the quartermaster thereafter having to utilize an old piece of canvas as a logbook. On the canvas he noted: “No idea as to position -- lost.” Strathella still kept steaming, hoping to sight Iceland, while coal and food supplies were nearly exhausted.
Furthermore, on Friday 21 January the log [canvas] read: “All coal supply exhausted this morning. Drifting about the ocean.” On the 26th, the log noted, “still drifting -- ship covered with ice and snow. Drinking water supply getting low, collecting ice and snow to augment drinking water supply.” The next day they sighted land, so the crew broke-up everything [wood] for fuel for the engines. The ship was driven towards the barren land by heavy winds, and the crew had to use their precious fuel to avoid the rocks. Nevertheless, the following day the wind shifted and they lost sight of the land mass. On Tuesday the 1st of February the log entry read: “ On rations everyone suffering from hunger. Shot the cat today, poor bugger hungry, no food to eat.” On they drifted as the situation worsened. And, on the 11th Strathella again sighted land . . . the next day she sighted a plane, but the plane did not see them. “Crew now in full hope of being rescued. thought position to be the west coast of Iceland,” stated the logbook.
On Sunday the 13th, the cripple was again in sight of land when at 1230 she spotted a Catalina flying boat. The vessel fired her six pound gun and sent up rockets. The plane saw them and signaled an acknowledgement. Twelve hours later, USS/USCGC Modoc found Strathella, and took her in tow. Mohawk, also part of the search, had gotten underway on the 13th out of Skoufjord. As soon as Modoc alerted her to the “find,” Mohawk sailed towards the two vessels. At 0120, “Mo” started screening for U-boats, just in case there were any about. On the afternoon of the 15th Mohawk, took the stricken ship’s crew aboard and towed Strathella. Still towing slowly, the adventure ended just after 0100, the 18th, when “Mo” moored at Bluie West One. Later, in September 1944, Mohawk was given the honor of towing the Strathella to St. Johns, Newfoundland.
Be it that Mohawk was utilized for all operations, the cutter was very often on weather patrol during the summer of ‘44. On the 4th of June 1944, “Mo’s” [little known] weather patrol became noteworthy, for, on that day, an historic meeting took place far away from Station “Charlie.” At Southwick House, located outside of Portsmouth, England, Group Captain J. N. Stagg [RAF], senior meteorologist for “Operation Overlord,” briefed General Eisenhower and the top Allied commanders on the weather situation. They had already put the invasion off once (the day before); truculent weather being the cause. The Germans were secure in their thinking that the premeditated invasion would be put off for the same reason. Stagg, however (possibly using Mohawk’s weather reports), had interpreted a break in the weather. The new front would cause the weather to moderate on the 5th and the morning of the 6th, after which the weather would again deteriorate. The prerequisite given, Group Captain Stagg retired. . . . The Allied commanders decided to attack France on the 6th of June. It is not known whether “OS Charlie” was among his [Stagg’s] sources, but more than likely that information was taken into account. Perhaps, just perhaps, little “Mo,” now deserted and somewhat forgotten, had a minor hand in the winning of the war.
Ocean Station Baker (later named “Bravo”) was the other area wherein Mohawk did her weather-reporting duty. This “OS” was a little more than 300 miles west of Reykjavik, Iceland. She spent six days there in December 1944. And, it was also just after returning from Iceland that “Mo” suffered a grave injury.
Ice, ice, and more ice! There was field ice, pack ice, growlers, and, of course, icebergs!!! Ironically, it is the growlers that were the most dangerous, as they’re hardly visible above the surface and could cause severe damage to any ship below the waterline: Mohawk found a growler. . . .
“Mo” was operating due west of Bluie West Seven in poor visibility, yet moderate seas when, at [quote], “0454 [she] struck a large unseen growler dead ahead. 0455, stopped engine. 0457, No apparent damage to vessel, further examination to be made, increasing speed. . . .” All seemed well and “Mo’ regained standard speed, when Charlie Watson [stern watchstander], notified the bridge that he smelled fuel oil. At 0518 an inspection party discovered nine inches of water in the port magazine, but all other compartments were “declared normal.” This proved to be somewhat optimistic. As Mohawk started up Arsuk Fjord, she developed a slight port list. It was soon reported that her port fuel line was contaminated with water. At 0750, her CO stopped engine to drain the fuel line and shift to the starboard fuel tank. “Mo” soon again got underway , and at 0930 she docked at Bluie West Seven. By 1000, a rudimental dockside inspection was complete and the news wasn’t good. She was in trouble as not only were a number of frames buckled and eight plates damaged but was taking on 150 gallons of water per minute and the pumps were not keeping up.
The problem was what to do with a crippled ship over one thousand miles from the nearest dry-dock? The answer! They brought aboard 150 empty fifty-five gallon drums and placed them on the starboard side, filling them with water to make the ship alter list to starboard; thereafter, using divers, fashioned a huge wooden plug for the hole. Soon after they fashioned a hose set-up to melt down and remove Bunker C fuel oil from the walls of the tank so damage control could get down there and build braces to reinforce the hull. The final thing done was to shore the bulkhead between the port oil tank and the fire room. Two days later, on 29 January 1945, Mohawk took the starboard station in a convoy with her old friend Algonquin and the USS/USCGC Evergreen. The January seas were nasty, but aside from developing a five degree port list by the end of the trip, on 4th February the ship arrived in Argentia, where, LCDR Speaker, (CO), was told to take her to Boston Yard. There were smiles all around
On 21 February, the newly conditioned cutter left dry-dock. She returned to Greenland in March 1945. Mohawk did a few more weather patrols; on one she even had a “man overboard” drill -- with a boat in the water -- something she would never have done earlier on. Training films were shown, inspections held, and relative drills were held. The war as the “Mighty Mo” had known it, was winding down. During the war the Coast Guard had established a record of “can do,” albeit she was the smallest branch of service. U-boat captain Peter Cremer later wrote: “This organization was only incorporated in the Navy as a subsidiary force in wartime and was overshadowed by it’s big[ger] brother, so that its effectiveness was often obscured by more dramatic events. It was hardly mentioned, although its activities in defense of human life and material deserved more respect and gratitude.” A fitting tribute to the Coast Guard and to the little ships like Mohawk.
On 8 May 1945, she made a last entry in her log concerning the war, in which she recorded a general quarters drill: “1200, commenced firing No. 2 gun. 1202, ceased firing, expended five (5) rounds 3”/50 AA ammunition. 1203, Secured from general quarters.” Mohawk’s war was over.
“Mo” did not immediately depart Greenland. She was saddled with miscellaneous errands, some of which were enjoyable, such as the time a USO troop entertained aboard and the ship transported the performers to various performances. She was sent to air-sea rescue stations, as they were bringing warplanes back filled with departing troops from the European theatre and intentionally flew over southern Greenland. (The cutters had been painted yellow so the pilots could easily spot the ships in case they had to ditch). Watson states: “if a plane went down in our area, we were there to help. . . .” Still, Mohawk’s help proved unnecessary. There are no log entries of her having to rescue a plane’s crew.
Mohawk departed Greenland, for the very last time, in company with USS Naugatuk, at 0559, on 28 September 1945. After a one day stopover in Argentia, she sailed into Boston Harbor on 7 October 1945, where she docked at Constitution Wharf and off-loaded a large number of her wartime crewmen: some discharged; some transferred to other duties. “Mo” sailed for the Curtis Bay Yard on the 12th arriving on 14th. During the Yard period more changes were made in personnel. The ship had already removed her roller racks, K-guns, anti-aircraft guns, and mousetraps, so all she attended the Yard for was to fumigate ship and make her again appear as a CG cutter. On 25 November 1945, the career of the warship Mohawk officially ended. She, in a ceremony dockside, hauled down the US Navy pennant raising the US Coast Guard pennant and CG Ensign. The that same day at 1230, she arrived at Cape May, New Jersey. The USCGC Mohawk was home.
During December 1945, “Mighty Mo” fell back into her usual peacetime routine of breaking ice, towing cripples, and rescuing ships. By 6 April 1946, the white cutter, was down to a comfortable 5 officers and 50 men. At 1400 that same day she was authorized 15 working days to clean her boilers. Ironically, three hours after that dispatch the district officer sent another, and on 9 April the Mohawk was placed in “reserve commission status.” The crew swarmed ashore: 24 transferred that day; 32 within the week. One month later, the ship was down to a skeleton crew, the messes closed, and she attached to shore power. There “Mo” sat through May, June, July, and August; her fate uncertain. In September she came back to life, when Headquarters decided that she was not yet “surplus.” On 31 October, she was again placed in “full commission.”
November 1946 saw two interesting rescue cases: one successful; the other tragic. On the 4th, she assisted SS Mormacman, whose 4th Engineer Sol M. Lester had suffered burns on both hands and his left forearm. The Mohawk’s Pharmacist’s Mate accompanied Lester to the hospital after docking at CG Base, Edgemoor, Delaware. The second case came on 28 November from the tanker Chantilly, which had sustained an explosion aboard in which an oiler, Robert J, Kenny was badly injured. Two cutters and a patrol boat -- one being Mohawk -- were dispatched to the scene. Mohawk came alongside and Kenny was transferred. “Mo” then raced to Ocean City and a rendezvous with the patrol craft which contained the doctor. But despite utilizing flares to help the small craft find her, all was for naught for Kenny died. Mohawk brought the body to Cape May. In the meantime, the USCGC Cherokee took the disabled Chantilly in tow.
Sadly, on 20 December 1946, the Mohawk was again placed in reserve commission status. It was looming that the Mohawk’s career was ending. On 24 December 1947 at 1300,, Commander Robert S. Lecky, who, ironically, was present at the commissioning of the grand little cutter and Chief George Reichert, MMC, a member of her original crew who served two tours aboard the proud Lady, were both there on her last day. Commander Lecky “held quarters for the last time and placed the vessel in decommissioned status.” Now other ships would have to carry on her honorable legacy.
Pilot Boat And Beyond
The end of the Mohawk could have taken place in 1947, as surplus cutters were either utilized by private owners or sold as scrap metal. Of the five sister 165’s that survived the war, all but the Tahoma had already been decommissioned. She alone would continue as a “CG” cutter until 1953. Sadly, they are all gone now: Algonquin, Onondaga, Tahoma, Comanche (lost in Hurricane Hugo), and, of course, the Escanaba, sunk in 1943. The only one still afloat -- is Mohawk.
The Pilots Association of the Bay and River Delaware had been formed in 1896. In 1948, the pilots were looking for a new ship to replace their aging steam driven Philadelphia, which was then already 50 years old. The government sold them Mohawk, as her ice-breaking capabilities enhanced her usefulness. Mohawk renamed SS Philadelphia had a new career. And, she steamed on the pilot boat station between Overfalls Light and the Delaware Breakwater. She served as a dormitory for pilots and a training school for pilot’s apprentices. She was operated by a non-pilot crew consisting of one Master, two mates, five engineers, three oilers, and three firemen, in addition to the  apprentices, who acted as her deck force. The apprentices learned -- between trips -- more of the ways of shiphandling. On 17 May 1953, the former cutter relived her old role, when she rescued the crew of the pilot boat Delaware, which had been rammed by an outgoing freighter in dense fog near Overfalls Lightship. One man was drowned; five injured. Philadelphia also fished one man from the water, and towed the stricken vessel back to Lewes. She again proved that she was still a Coast Guard cutter at heart.
There were many changes to her structure. The pilots even had an awning-frame added to the fantail, which later had a solid overhead emplaced (which is still there today). The biggest (and worst) changes occurred in 1959 when Philadelphia was changed to diesel power. The ships boilers and geared turbines were replaced by a 1800 horse-power Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine. The change eliminated the need for boiler intakes; therefore, the funnel was replaced and moved a few feet aft, giving the former cutter an awkward look. All-in-all, she looked nothing like the trim cutter built in the 1930’s.
For thirty years Philadelphia roamed her station, whilst delivering pilots to inbound ships; removing pilots from the outbound. But, in the 1970’s her second career was sadly coming to an end. Labor problems, fuel costs, shore accommodations for apprentices, and her advanced age were making the old gal too expensive to operate. In 1978 the former Mohawk, was again unemployed. The initial decision to sell the ship took place in 1975. Potential buyers included the Maine Maritime Academy, but as the ship was (in their estimation) too old, they reneged. Therefore, in 1978, she was donated to the Delaware Technical and Community College as a tax write-off, wherein, for three years the former-cutter laid alongside a pier in Lewes. The college never moved her. Yet, they stationed a security/maintenance man aboard for safekeeping. They projected a number of ideas for her use; one being to use her engineroom as a training school for diesel mechanics. Nevertheless, the college decided that they couldn’t afford the projects in mind. Once again, the grand warship faced an uncertain future.
Soon, a post-war business group called Wilmington Waterways Incorporated (a non-profit business booster organization) formed, attempting to spur development along the Wilmington, Delaware waterfront. (Pusey and Jones, where “Mo” was built, had long gone the way of the dinosaur, as had many business concerns located in the long-neglected area). The waterways folks were looking for a way to enhance their waterfront redevelopment project. In due course they learned of the existence of the old cutter -- built in their town -- and formed a “Mohawk Committee.” On the first week of August 1981, a separate non-profit committee was established and ads were placed in the newspapers to raise a crew for the ship. The ads alone turned up a number of potential crewmembers, including former Coast Guard and Navy sailors -- among which were actual veterans of Mohawk herself!
On 17 August 1981, “Mighty Mo” returned to the Wilmington waterfront. Back where it all started, one-quarter of a mile from where she was built forty-seven years before. Money was raised for dry-docking and repairs. Still, outside of engine, prop, and other repairs, major restorations were beyond their limited budget. If ship museums are the most expensive museums to run, an old ship -- sailing under her own steam -- is an astronomically expensive project. The crew commenced rejuvenation to give her an approximate wartime appearance. Finally, on 27 May 1983, dignitaries and guests arrived, including two US Senators, the Mayor of Wilmington, the British Naval attaché -- and, of course, Captain Robert S. Lecky (Ret.), her last CG Commanding Officer. The historic cutter Mohawk was rededicated, giving the aging cutter a new lease on life.
On the weekend after Labor Day, 1985, a reunion was held for the veterans of Mohawk, forty years after the end of the war. One of the events was a Memorial Service for those sailors killed in the war and all those whom had since “crossed the bar.” Once again, those whom had worked the decks of the former cutter that had carried them numerous times into those perilous adventures, arrived aboard. There were also veterans present who had served on her sister ships; just trying to revisit their military years. It seemed to awaken a past long in repose; all but forgotten. . . .
Mohawk again had a commission of sorts. She sailed some of her old haunts, including the Delaware and Chesapeake. She, whilst sailing by, made even the most prosaic, envision what it was like to sail a small cutter into waters that were once none to friendly. Mohawk was unique. If museum ships are the most expensive museums to run, a old ship, sailing under her own steam, is indeed a very expensive project. The volunteers kept her going, but their interest and fiancées waned, and soon old “Mo” was again tied to a pier, for in the late 1980’s, the Coast Guard restricted her engine use to just the local waterways; later to restrict its use entirely. The Mohawk Committee then gave-up.
Enter John Azari
The Mohawk sat rejected after the Mohawk Committee lost her. Her fate undecided, again. That is until John Azari, a Hungarian refugee, and a first-rate machinist, fell in love with the little cutter. John purchased her in 1990, after mortgaging his house to do so. He then had her towed to Perth Amboy, New Jersey -- the old Navy Yard -- where the mayor had granted permission to dock her, for a short period, as the city intended to revamp the entire area.
John soon attempted to move her to Carteret, New Jersey. But the dock, contracted by John for Mohawk use was not “yet” repaired, so the contractor had her towed to the New Jersey Steel Company docks. Surprisingly, at least to John, they had not secured permission to moor her there and the Coast Guard and State Police informed John that he would have to remove the little warrior, post haste! He then had to prove to the steel company folks, via documents that he had the lease (and option to buy) the Carteret dock, and only needed docking space until the contractor finished “Mo’s” new home. It was not to be, Mr. Sica [Carteret dock owner], died soon after and his son sold the dock area (including the pilings and materials, John had sold his machine shop to purchase), right out from under Azari.
Fortunately, John was able to keep “Mo” at the steelyard dock for a year’s duration. John, in one of his letters to me, said: “With Mr. Sica dead, the whole works [were] halted. His son, Frank Sica [while facing bankruptcy], managed to sell (or transfer) the entire conglomerate. I was locked out and lost all materials, sheds, and wood poles [pilings] I had purchased and hauled to the site. They [new owners] ordered their workers to cut-up everything, and clear the area. I even lost my 12’ high, A-frame movable crane.” John then went to criminal court in an attempt to recover money for the loss. No such luck! He lost in court, because, according to him, the Sica’s had filed bankruptcy, negating any payment. John, whose only dream was to save and rebuilt Mohawk, had lost his entire investment, and again had to move the ship!
After a long frustrating search, John, whose health was failing -- albeit he still harbored the dream of her refurbishment -- found a dilapidated pier on Staten Island, an area well known to Mohawk from her war days: The pier where she was (until recently) tied. John died in March 2001, soon after sending his final letter to me. No work had been done on the little World War II veteran. She sat there just rusting away. And the Caribbean Transport Line has a lien on the Mohawk for $28,000 in back docking fees. She has since been moved to another dock at Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, as they needed the dock space for “more important” shipping.
Now I ask, what could be more important then saving a ship with the Mohawk’s history? The last 165 foot cutter of her class. The little cutter that had weathered many a storm; challenged many an enemy, and all these year later still fights a lonely battle to survive -- “Mighty Mo.”
There are a number of people hoping to see her saved, including the author. I am including a couple of their names and email addresses in case you are interested in helping to save the Mohawk. They are:
Steve Lindsey: Nautical Historian and Writer:
John Stamford : Nautical Historian and Columnist:
Both of these Gentlemen would be only too eager to answer any questions regarding “Saving the Mohawk.”
Now Hear This
USCGC Mohawk to be restored in Florida
Good news for the warship preservationists! Subsequent toa two-part Sea Classic article by J.C. Carney on the sad state of the former USCGC Mohawk which appeared in the October/November 2002 issues, the cutter reportedly was sold to Frans Botes of Coral Gable, Florida. Mister Botes is an experienced ship restorer having successfully overseen the recent reconstruction of the HRMS Mercur minesweeper in Holland. Mercur is an American-built ex-US Navy AM/MSO-483 which was given to Holland under the Marshall Plan. Mercur is currently owned by the Netherlands Marine Trust. Built in 1934, the 165-ft cutter Mohawk saw extensive action in the North Atlantic in WWII. After years of civil service as a pilot boat the near derelict Mohawk was purchased by a non-profit group which had aspirations of returning the gunboat toher former glory. Sadly, this did not happen when the vessel's condition deteriorated faster than financial efforts to save her. In 1990 ship enthusiast John Azari purchased the cutter, but he too was hampered by bureaucratic meddling and restricted funding. When Mr. Azari died in 2001, the vessel was placed for sale by his estate. Mohawk will undergo a complete refit and restoration in Florida, where her new owner resides."
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