of the Hamilton
By George Birch
CGC Hamilton (WPG-34)
Courtesy of Ken Laessar's CG History Website
was once a beauty, with shining brass and painted white.
I answered the call of duty, and steered away one night.
guns all gleamed so proudly, pointing at the sky.
of them kept saying, “We’ll see action, by and by.
one dark night off Iceland I got a tin-fish wound,
when the torp exploded, I knew it sealed my doom.
captain tried to beach me, and save my wounded soul,
I knew no one could reach me; the tin-fish scored a goal.
put a line onto my bow, and towed me to the shore,
knew there was no saving now, I’d sail the seas no more.
next time you see a Cutter, steaming out to sea,
say, if you see the Hamilton, give her regards from me.
when the sea is stormy, and the waves are rolling high,
a Coast Guard Cutter is needed, my spirit will be nigh!
USCGC HAMILTON (WPG-34)
From Ken Laessar's CG History Website
Built by New York Naval Shipyard, NY,NY
Keel laid 11 September 1935 / Launched 6 January 1937
Commissioned 4 March 1937 / Lost at sea 30 January 1942 Homeported
The second Alexander Hamilton was laid down on 11 September 1935 at the New York Navy Yard; launched on 6 January 1937; sponsored by Miss Mary Schoyler Hamilton, the great-great-granddaughter of the first Secretary of the Treasury; and commissioned at her builders yard on 4 March 1937, Comdr. Charles G. Roemer, USCG, in command.
After fitting-out, the new Coast Guard cutter sailed for Oakland, Calif., her assigned duty station. Proceeding via the Panama Canal, which she transited between 14 and 17 June 1937, Alexander Hamilton reached her destination on 29 June. That summer, her name was shortened to Hamilton.
Hamilton departed Oakland on 15 July 1938 for her first extended deployment, to carry out part of the Coast Guards annual Bering Sea patrol and render aid, where needed, to the local inhabitants in the isolated and widely scattered settlements in the Alaskan territory. She touched briefly at Seattle, Seward, 01 and Kodiak en route, and reached Unalaska, near the western F end of the Aleutian chain, on 26 July. She proceeded thence to Egekik, on an inlet of Bristol Bay, and there brought off an injured man for transportation to Unalaska on 8 August.
Hamilton returned to Bristol Bay, having received reports from cannery officials that Japanese ships had been casting their nets and fishing off Cape Cherikof in June. The cutter patrolled d those waters, visited Nunivak Island, and provided medical relief to natives at the village of Koot, before she returned to Unalaska on 17 August. After responding to another medical emergency--bringing a young girl in great physical distress from Popof Island to Unalaska--Hamilton resumed her patrolling Alaskan waters, ultimately arriving at Nome, on the shores of Norton Sound, on 27 August. She sailed soon thereafter for Dutch Harbor, and visited St. Paul, in the Pribilof Islands, on 30 August.
Proceeding thence to Akutan, where she arrived on 14 September, Hamilton's doctors and dentists treated medical and dental cases awaiting their attention. Three days later, the cutter contacted the British freighter SS Athel Templar, which had reported two cases of dysentery and cholera on board, and granted the ship permission to anchor at Dutch Harbor to allow a Coast Guard medical officer to examine the patients. Both ships then proceeded to Unalaska, arriving on the evening of 18 September.
The second leg of Hamilton's Bering Sea cruise of 1938 commenced with the ships visit to Chignik, on the Alaska peninsula, on 26 September, where she embarked two native women for transportation to Unalaska for medical treatment. The following day, while en route, Hamilton sought shelter from a gale in the waters off Popof Island, and while there rendered dental assistance to four needy natives. The cutter reached her ultimate destination, Unalaska, and transferred the sick women to the hospital there, soon thereafter.
Hamilton proceeded thence to Nome and Teller, the latter a settlement near the tip of the Seward peninsula and Bering Strait, before she steamed to St. Lawrence Island, thence to St. Michael and Nome. The ship returned to Dutch Harbor on 11 October, and spent the next two weeks carrying out a number of short trips, beginning at Seward on 14 October when she embarked the Honorable Anthony Dimond, delegate-at-large from Alaska and Dr. G. A. Dale, Supervisor of the Office of Indian Affairs, and ending at Unalaska on 26 October. The ship's Grumman JF-1 "Duck" amphibian conducted flights from Kodiak to Afognak and Uzinki, while the ship visited Old Harbor, Akhiok village, Alitak Bay, Karluk, Chignik, Unga, Popof Island, Belkofski, King Cove, and Akutan, providing medical and dental assistance as required at each port and settlement. Reaching Seward on 1 November, Hamilton disembarked her passengers and sailed thence for Oakland, arriving on 5 November. During the four months she had spent in the Bering Sea region, the ship had steamed over 15,000 miles.
On 19 July 1939, Hamilton was earmarked for a one years scientific cruise to south and central Pacific islands in connection with a scientific expedition jointly sponsored by the National Geographic Society and the University of Virginia, On 1 September 1939, however, war broke out in Europe. On 5 September, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed American neutrality in the conflict and ordered the formation of a neutrality patrol by the Navy to report and track any belligerent air, surface, or submarine activity in the waters off the United States east coast and in the West Indies. The following day, Hamilton's scientific cruise was canceled, and on 8 September the ship was ordered to Norfolk.
Arriving at her new home port on 5 October 1939, Hamilton soon sailed for her first neutrality patrol, assigned administratively to the Navy's Destroyer Division 18. She patrolled off the Grand Banks, and ultimately put into Boston on 27 October. Sailing on 6 November, Hamilton relieved sister ship Campbell on the Grand Banks patrol with orders to identify foreign men-of-war, be on the lookout for any unneutral activities, and report anything of an unusual nature. Obtaining all possible information from the ships she encountered, the cutter illuminated her ensign by searchlight at all times, and prefaced all signals with Coast Guard identification. She wound up her second cruise on 17 November.
On Hamilton's third cruise (7 to 17 December 1939), the ship again operated on the Grand Banks, joining in the search at the outset of the voyage for the overdue trawlers Madeleine and Flora and relieving sister ship Duane as Commander, Special Patrol Force "A." She questioned all passing ships about the whereabouts of trawlers sold to the French government until she received information telling of their detention. The Coast Guard cutter returned to Norfolk on 15 December.
Returning to the familiar waters of the Grand Banks after departing Norfolk on 6 January 1940, Hamilton patrolled areas "Cast" and "Dog." During the course of this voyage, she received several distress calls, including one from the trawler Crest which reported a sick man on board requiring removal to shoreside hospital facilities. Although Hamilton altered course and prepared to go the rescue, other ships proved closer and rendered assistance. As the Coast Guard cutter continued her patrol, she noted a growing reluctance of some ships to answer signals and identify themselves.
Arriving back at Norfolk on 18 January 1940, Hamilton was next assigned duty in connection with the establishment of ocean weather stations, in February 1940. Since the war had stopped the flow of weather data from merchant ships, the Coast Guard drew the duty of maintaining continuous patrol of two 327-foot cutters (Hamilton and her sister ships), covering a quadrangular area in mid-Atlantic between the Azores and Bermuda. Their duty involved steaming on station within a certain radius of the prearranged position at all times.
During Hamilton's first cruise on weather observation patrol (27 February to 1 March), the Coast Guard cutters embarked meteorologists from the Weather Bureau made observations with radiosondes and balloons, and the ship provided Pan American Airways Boeing 314 flying boats--"Yankee Clipper," "Dixie Clipper," and "American Clipper"--with weather and position reports and transmitted radio signals to allow the planes to take accurate bearings.
Hamilton's next two cruises (from 29 April to 28 May and from 2 to 29 July) saw the ship continuing her work of weather reporting, identifying foreign-flag vessels, and furnishing the "Clippers" with necessary meteorological information. As on all cruises, Hamilton's radiomen maintained a double watch when the "Clippers" passed overhead on the transatlantic run. Her fourth cruise (from 4 to 30 September) followed the routine that had been established in the first three, except that during this voyage she spotted foreign armed freighters, a convoy, and planes from a carrier air group. She also encountered hurricane weather for the first time.
Upon completion of her fourth weather station cruise, Hamilton underwent voyage repairs and upkeep at Norfolk before she returned to sea on 5 October, performing duty as patrol vessel in the offshore waters of the 5th Naval District, steaming between Winter Quarter Lightship and Frying Pan Shoals. She conducted neutrality patrol duties, observing foreign ships passing through district waters, and maintained station off Cape Hatteras--the most likely locality in which ships in distress could be encountered. She wound up the cruise on 17 October.
Over the summer, Hamilton had increased the number of boat and gun drills carried out--an activity which reflected the increasing tension in the Atlantic. During the course of Hamilton's ninth patrol on weather station (25 August to 23 September), an incident occurred in the North Atlantic which profoundly effected the conditions under which American naval vessels would operate. On 4 September 1941, the German submarine U--652 fired torpedoes at the destroyer Greer (DD--145) as the latter tracked her, 175 miles southwest of Iceland.
11 September, President Roosevelt gave the Navy orders "shoot on sight" any vessel threatening United States shipping, or shipping under American escort. Hamilton took special precautions against submarine and aircraft attack, darkened ship, ran zig-zag courses, and stationed two extra lookouts on each bridge wing and one astern. In addition, all hands--including officers and wardroom stewards--turned out with brushes and painted ship, the once-glistening white cutter donning a more warlike coat of dark gray ("Measure One") camouflage, while at sea.
Hamilton's fifth cruise on the arduous ocean station duty commenced on 5 January 1941 and ended on 3 February. Despite the excellent seakeeping qualities of the the 327-foot cutters, Hamiliton found her binnacle list swelled by sailors injured by the motion of the ship as she battled high winds and heavy seas. On 15 January, for example, 20 men reported to sick bay with bruises and contusions as the cutter responded to an SOS from the freighter SS West Kebar.
As before, Hamilton furnished the "Clippers" with necessary weather information, and carried out the usual meteorological observations with radiosondes, balloons, and from the surface. Late in the cruise, on 27 January, one of her men suffered an appendicitis attack; and the ship proceeded immediately to Bermuda, later sighting a 35-ship convoy forming up under the protective wing of escort ships.
Hamilton encountered violent rainstorms and heavy seas on her sixth cruise (16 March to 10 April), and among the sightings of foreign-flag ships was one which changed course soon after being sighted, as if endeavoring to run from the cutter. The next two cruises (16 May to 11 June, and 25 June to 21 July), proved uneventful--the ship providing information for the "Clippers" and reporting the weather--with one exception. During the second of those cruises, Hamilton sighted a Japanese ship which did not answer calls and proceeded on her way.
Following her tenth and final weather patrol (17 October to 5 November 1941), Hamilton underwent voyage repairs and upkeep at Norfolk that lasted through the American entry into World War II on 7 December with the Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Hamiltons overhaul at Norfolk was completed on 27 December 1941, and the ship was assigned to the Navy for duty escorting convoys--work pioneered by her sister ships Campbell and Ingham with great success. She soon sailed for the Naval Operating Base, Argentia, Newfoundland, to commence her new wartime assignment.
At this point, with Hamilton operating with the Navy (the Coast Guard having been transferred to Navy jurisdiction on 11 September 1941), a problem arose due to the fact that the Coast Guard cutter's name was identical to that of the fast minesweeper Hamilton (DMS--18). Accordingly, the Navy requested the Coast Guard to restore the cutters full name, Alexander Hamilton. Coast Guard Operational Memorandum No. 17 of 12 January 1942 officially effected this change. Also during this early wartime period, the ship was classified as a gunboat, WPG-34.
Clearing Argentia in company with the destroyer Niblack (DD--424) and the older "flush-deck" destroyers Tarbell (DD--142) and Overton (DD--139), Alexander Hamilton rendezvoused with convoy HX--170 southwest of Argentia on the evening of l5 January1942--29 ships bound for the mid-ocean meeting point (MOMP) where they would be turned over to British escorts for the remainder of the voyage to the British Isles. Two additional destroyers, Ellis (DD--154) and Greer, together with the gunboat St. Augustine (PG--54), swelled the escort force at the outset of the voyage as coastal escort, until they were detached for other work two days later.
Reaching the MOMP on 22 January, buffeted by heavy seas and a massive gale that struck that evening, HX--170 marked time awaiting the arrival of the tardy British escort force. Low fuel states compelled the detachment of Tarbell and Overton, leaving the entire convoy under the protection of Alexander Hamilton and Niblack until the British force finally arrived on the afternoon of the 24th. Her mission completed, Alexander Hamilton shaped a course for Iceland.
As Alexander Hamilton was making her way there, the storeship Yukon (AF--9) suffered an engine casualty while en route to join convoy ON-57, a half-hour before midnight on 23 January 1942. Directed to the scene, the Coast Guard cutter arrived on the 25th and took the disabled "beef boat" in tow. The destroyer Gwin (DD--433) provided an escort, and the little convoy then crept toward Reykjavik at a snails pace.
By noon on the 29th, the three ships were only ten miles from their destination. The British tug Frisky put out from Reykjavik to take Yukon in tow, while the two escorts screened the operation. Alexander Hamilton then cast off the tow line and proceeded ahead, slowly, to keep clear of the tug and her charge, eight miles off Skaggi Point light, near the entrance to the swept channel to Reykiavik. At 1312 on 29 January 1942, a torpedo from U--132--which had been patrolling off Reykjavik since 21 January--struck the cutter amidships without warning. One torpedo, of a four-torpedo spread, smashed into Alexander Hamiltons starboard side, directly abeam of the stack. It hit the fireroom bulkhead and flooded the two largest compartments of the ship, blew up two boilers, exploded directly under the main electrical switchboard, demolished the starboard turbines and flooded the auxiliary engine room, and wrecked the auxiliary radio generator and emergency diesel generator as well. The blast also destroyed three of the ships seven boats. The interior of the ship was plunged into darkness--no heat, steam, nor electricity remained.
While U--132 escaped the attention of nearby destroyers over the next several hours (she would ultimately reach La Pallice on 8 February and be sunk on 5 November 1942 by British planes) Alexander Hamilton settled lower in the water. Twenty-six men were killed instantly; six died later of the injuries sustained in the torpedoing. Ten more injured men required hospitalization. At 1345, eight officers and 75 enlisted men went over the side into the four remaining boats; Icelandic fishing trawlers then took these 81 men on board and carried them to Reykjavik.
With Alexander Hamilton down at the stern by some eight to ten feet by 1447, Gwin came alongside briefly to take off the last of the cutters crew, including her commanding officer, Comdr. Arthur G. Hall, USCG, who had ordered "abandon ship" when it became evident that, with the ship powerless and in imminent danger of being torpedoed a second time, nothing more could be done at that point.
That evening, the British tug Restive attempted to take the crippled cutter in tow, abandoning the effort after two hours due to the heavy seas. Brief consideration was given to having Gwin transfer a skeleton crew to Restive to attempt to board Alexander Hamilton but, again, the weather prompted abandonment of those plans. Throughout the night, Restive, Frisky, and the Coast Guard tug Redwing attempted to salvage the ship, but without success.
At 1015 the following day, the seas having moderated, Frisky took Alexander Hamilton in tow and, as the day wore on, progressed 18 miles. The cutters list increased rapidly to starboard, however, and she suddenly capsized at 1728 on 30 January 1942 at 64032 north latitude, 22 58 west longitude. She remained afloat, though, bottom-up, and Ericsson (DD--440), which had arrived on the scene that morning to join the destroyer Livermore (DD--430) and seaplane tender Belknap (AVD--8) in escorting the salvage group, was then given the task of sinking the derelict. Three hits put Alexander Hamilton lower in the water, but she still remained defiantly afloat at nightfall, her hull barely awash. The cutter was reportedly still afloat that evening, prompting the dispatch of Ericsson to the scene, but the destroyer arrived the following morning to find only an oil slick.
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