Tales From The

 

 PocatellO (PF-9)

As Told By Their Captain, Sam Guill,

This article is from “We’ve Been There” by Esther V. Stormer ©1992 – Reprinted By Permission. 

 

What do you do with a newly built, Coast Guard Manned, Patrol Frigate? That's easy, send it on Weather Patrol in the North Pacific. - Jack

I had command of the PF 9 POCATELLO, one of the Kaiser ships built down in Richmond, California. It was flagship for our division. Alan Winbeck was our division commander. This was my first command.

Those ships were built to certain specs in a civilian yard and no alterations were allowed. When they came out and the Navy took possession with a Coast Guard crew, the Navy had a list of SHIPALTS. (Once they were turned over to the Navy you could do as you damn well pleased with them.) So it was quite some time before we were ready for sea duty. After a shakedown to San Diego we got called from Naval command in San Francisco who wanted to know how soon we'd be ready to go to sea. I said, "48 hours."

They said 24 was better. Okay. We had orders to go to Seattle. Rush, rush, rush.

When we arrived, no one knew why. We reported down to the old Federal building. An old Captain, a retread, said, "I don't know a thing about you. Don't know why you're here, but do you need anything done?"

I gave him the list and he said, "Okay, get it done and I'll find out why you're here."

A short time later he gave me a call and I went up to see him. He asked if I would mind taking a weather patrol. I didn't mind, it would give us something to do.

First they thought we'd be sent to the entrance to the strait on patrol, but the HAIDA and some other ship temporarily had the weather station just south of Kodiak, a thousand miles from the Cape. He wanted us to take that patrol just once. A year later it was one more and one more after that. One of the officers I had on the ship was Buddy Ebsen. He made a good officer.

Incidentally, when we went into commission, there were 19 of us who had been to sea, that included the Engineering Officer and me. I think we were counting the Exec, who had been a yacht broker and yachtsman. Anyway, there were 19 of us. We had 23 days on station and the HAIDA had 17. The difference was in our ability to remain at sea. You went out and came back on your own time. By the time we got to Seattle we had 10 days in port before going out again. We did that for over a year. It was really monotonous the big problem was crew morale. We kept all those people out there and only half of them had any work to do. We tried all sorts of things to liven things up a bit. On the last patrol that I made, Ebsen, who was a morale officer, among other things, put together a play, Madame Butterfly. During that patrol, the players, and future players, were stitching and sewing and making wigs and doing all sorts of things. We had lots of colored bunting for flags and repairs, etc., so there were some beautiful costumes.

The night before we entered the strait was their performance. It was a foggy night. Shortly after the play got started, the PA system announced, "CAPTAIN, COME TO THE BRIDGE!" You don't hear that very often. On that ship, to get to the bridge, you had to go out on deck. As I stepped out, I heard machine gun fire. I thought, "Oh, boy!"

At the same time, the OOD rang the General Alarm. The crew went to General Quarters. When I got to the bridge the OOD said, "We have a surface target traveling at 100 knots. It's on our course now and it's going to pass us." There were machine guns on it. We were still in the process of General Quarters and, of course, in General Quarters, whoever is "here" had to go "there" and there are people going in all directions. I looked over the side at one of the 20mms. The gunner had a part in the play. These guns had a gun sight box that was automaticas you trained your target, it would crank in the proper amount of lead by change of angle. Two weather balloons had been blown up and they gave him quite a bosom. The balloons were in his way; one would pop up and he'd punch that one down and the other would pop up.

The only thing we could figure out was that one of the Canadian PBY's based at Vancouver Island hadn't turned on his radar and was flying low. As he passed us, one of his gunners test fired his machine guns.

On one occasion, we'd worked up considerable gunnery problems for Churchill's Hour. Just before dawn we would go to General Quarters and again before dusk. In order to make this worthwhile, the night before we would work up the problems, then feed them into radar and CIC. It was something that all hands could get involved in. On this particular occasion, we'd gone through most of the exercise and it was getting monotonous, so I went below. I'd been down in my cabin only a couple minutes and a voice from the bridge said, "Captain, we're closing the target."

I replied, "Secure."

He said, "Captain, this is a REAL target." We had a Russian freighter as a target and he broke out of the fog with our guns on him. Some of his crew started forward for their guns, froze halfway, and walked back.


We had a very popular doctor on the POCATELLO. He didn't have enough work to keep him busy, so he volunteered to do things that made him very useful. He sat in on the coding board, which would have removed him from the protection of the Geneva Convention. 

The doctor was pulled ashore to the district to basically solve the problem of the SPARS. Many of the SPARS were itchy and wanted out. The replacement doctor was a jerk right from the first day. He was on everyone's list and was no help at all. You may recall, movement of the ship, even though everyone knew about it, wasn't talked about at all. On the day of sailing, here's the doctor's' wife on the dock. Everybody heard him call to his wife, "I'll be back as soon as I can. Look for me on the 23rd."

On patrol he absolutely refused to have anything to do with the coding machineshe was a doctor and only a doctor and wasn't going to do anything that would jeopardize his position in life. In the wardroom he made scurrilous remarks. No one wanted him around. Just before we were relieved, several officers asked if I would hold still for a project. They explained and I replied that I would hold still for it. In fact, I would help it along.

What they had cooked up was a series of dummy messages from Navy operations. The first was an inquiry, "How long can you remain at sea? Your relief has broken down and it will be some time before we can get one to you."

The doc was rooming with the Communications Officer. While he was in his bunk, someone came in and asked, "Is the doc asleep?"

"What ya got?"

"This message asking how long can we stay at sea."

"Do you know what the Captain answered?"

"No, I haven't seen it yet."

"Take another look." They'd already prepared an answer that we could stay out another 30 days. (the doctor is supposed to be asleep but they notice both ears flapping in the breeze.) "Another 30 days? Good God!"

Then there's a whole series of messages about staying out there. One was us asking for fresh provisions. Well, we received a message that there was a ship on its way from Seattle to Adak and they could divert it and we could refuel and reprovision and then we could stay out another 45 days or so.

Of course, our relief came at night and we headed home. But the messages kept flying back and forth. We had missed the relief ship, so we're now chasing it to the North and West. We hope to catch up with it before we got to Adak. You know, we saw the damn dock in Seattle before that doctor realized what was going on. He wrote a message to his wife, put a $20 dollar bill in it and gave it to the Radioman, knowing that all messages had to go through the Commanding Officerhe wanted this one sent without doing that. The Radioman brought me the message and the $20. Now what do we do? We put the $20 in the wardroom mess and I thanked the doc for the contribution. He was telling his wife he was on his way to the Aleutians and it would be another month or two before he got home.

 Sam Guill is a retired Coast Guard Captain

 

Extracted From Ken Laessar's Coast Guard History Site

Pocatello (PF-9)

(PF-9: dp. 2,415; 1. 303-11''; b. 37'6''; dr. 12'; s. 20 k.; cpl 180; a. 3 3'', 4 40mm.; cl. Tacoma; T. S2-S2-AQ1)

Pocatello (PF-9), a patrol frigate, originally classified as a PG, was laid down 17 August 1943 at Kaiser Yard No. 4, Richmond, Calif.; launched 17 October 1943; sponsored by Miss Thelma Dixey, a great granddaughter of Chief Pocatello ; manned by a Coast Guard crew; and commissioned at Richmond 18 February 1944, Lt. Comdr. S. C. Guill, USCG, in command.

After fitting out at General Engineering and Drydock Co., Alameda, Calif. and shakedown out of San Diego through 28 April Pocatello was assigned to Commander, Western Sea Frontier, and directed to commence weather station operations out of Seattle, Wash. Departing San Francisco 17 May, she arrived Seattle 22 June. One month later she commenced her first patrol on Weather Station Able.

Pocatello's weather station was approximately 1,500 miles west of Seattle. Patrols consisted of thirty days at sea followed by ten days in port at Seattle. Pocatello alternated on station with the Coast Guard cutter Haida, and had completed a dozen patrols by the war's end. Pocatello was then laid up on The West Coast. Scheduled for disposal, she shifted to Charleston, S.C., arriving 6 April 1946, and decommissioning there 2 May. Pocatello was subsequently sold at Charleston to J,C, Berkwit and Co. of New York.

A Patrol Frigate


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