THE WARSHIP SWIFTSURE

By Jim Gill  

 

Mr. Gill would like anybody reading this who can amplify and verify what the LV-113 did during WWII to communicate with him. He can be contacted by email at pdp@cds.com - Jack


LV 113 1929-1968 630x133x30x13 1930-1942:Swiftsure Bank(WA)
1942-1945:Examination vessel
1945-1961:Swiftsure Bank(WA)
1961:Umatilla Reef (OR)
              WAL 535 

From Ken Laessar's Website


 

Preview

The research and this story of Lightship 113, sometimes known as SWIFTSURE, came about almost by accident. I was reviewing the works of Willard Flint, a massive work containing details on every U.S. lightship ever built. Actually, I did this on a computer monitor as a portion of the book has been scanned in and posted on the web. I was looking for lightship 613 but inadvertently clicked on 113. When the page came up I saw my mistake but couldn’t help but read quickly about the old ship. As I glanced over the details I noticed the reference to 113’s WWII assignment which read, “Ketchikan” and gave her armament as a “one pounder”. At this point a tiny little bell rang. Wait a minute! Wasn’t my friend Red Bradley in this ship in 1942? And didn’t he tell me that the ship was stationed in Juneau – and carried a 4-inch gun? So that started it.

A hasty phone call followed. “Red” Bradley was adamant. The ship most certainly WAS stationed in Juneau, and didn’t I remember seeing her there when I was up there on the CGC McLANE? Well, that was almost 60 years ago, but then I started to remember. Yes, I did see the ship there, and I did see that monster 4-inch weapon. What follows is to tell of probably the most unusual employment of a lightship in all seafaring history.

THE SEARCH FOR SHIPS

If I were to tell you of a Lightship with a 4-inch gun on it’s bow there might be just a shadow of doubt in your mind. In addition, If I told you this ship also sported an anti-submarine weapon back aft called a “Y-gun”, you might then classify me as a nut-case to be summarily dismissed, but wait!

It all took place in early 1942. The Coast Guard and Navy were in urgent  need of seagoing craft of every type. At first, most anything that would float was pressed into service. Fishing boats, yachts, tugs, whale killer-boats were snapped up and put to use. Some of these vessels were dragged out of back-water bone-yards and in terrible shape. On the other hand, the Coast Guard had a number of very fine ships of a type that endured long periods at sea in the worst weather imaginable. These were the Lightships. All but a few (CORNFIELD, STONEHORSE) having been removed from station for the “duration”.

 

From Eastwind Publishing Site

PRE WWII

Lightship 113 was built in 1929 at the Albina Marine Works at Portland Oregon. Launched 1 July of that year the ship was soon assigned to the SWIFTSURE Banks station and served there until 1942 when the station was closed. At this time most lighthouses were blacked out and lightships withdrawn as well with their additional risk of being sitting ducks for submarines. So most lightship stations were abandoned and the ships given over to the task of an “Examination Ship”.  In performing this duty, the lightships usually continued to operate from their normal home ports. The operational mission was to proceed to the harbor entrance and begin a surveillance of all vessels within visual range. In particular, inbound craft required an early sighting, positive identification and timely reporting. This in some cases was carried out while at anchor or in some locations by patrolling the area underway.

READY FOR WAR

For Lightship 113 (later WAL-535) things were a little different. Swept up in the early frenzy to provide enough ships for patrol and convoy requirements, 113 was sent to a shipyard in Seattle and converted into a man-of-war! The former SWIFTSURE Lightship left the yard in May of 1942 armed as no other lightship in history.  Up forward was mounted a monster weapon, a 4-inch/50cal gun! On each bridge wing there was a .50 caliber machine gun and atop the aft deckhouse a .30 caliber machine gun. For anti-submarine action there was a “Y” gun back aft with 17 depth charges stored on deck. To detect any undersea activity the ship was equipped with JK-9 SONAR gear. As a final touch, the now slate-gray vessel displayed her new designation on the bow, “YP-397”

The ship took her departure from Seattle and sailed out to Port Townsend (location of the new Coast Guard Boot Training Station) to fill out her crew needs. 

The main character in this dramatic episode enters the plot at this time. Having completed the required training at Port Townsend, Dale “Red” Bradley, then 17 years old and six other young sailors were transferred to Lightship 113 (aka YP-397). It was almost midnight of 28 May 1942 as the group climbed aboard.  The vessel’s complement, now bursting at the seams, numbered six officers and 42 enlisted men. (over twice the normal crew of a lightship) The ship then headed north through the Inside Passage, stopped briefly at Ketchikan and continued northwards.

The Commanding Officer of the ship was Richard E. Walker, formerly of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. The USLHS became part of the Coast Guard in 1939 with former Masters and mates being integrated into the new service with supposedly commensurate rank. This was seldom the case however and many grave injustices were heaped upon these officers by the USCG. The commander of a USLHS vessel was almost invariably a seasoned Master Mariner of long experience and great skill. On merging with the CG most were handed the rank of a CPO, Warrant Officer or at best Ensign or LTJG. Richard E. Walker then seems to have done well to find himself an LCDR.

The Executive officer was Paul C. Lybrandt. Possibly another refugee from the USLHS. He held the rank of Chief Warrant Officer. Over the months he advanced steadily, first to Ensign, then to LTJG. Later, having reached the rank of LT, he succeeded Walker as CO of the ship.

OPERATIONS

The new home port for YP-397 was Juneau, Alaska where the ship arrived about mid June.  Without much fanfare or delay, the ship was dispatched to what was to be her regular patrol area, Icy Strait. More specifically, between Cape Spencer and Indian Head Light. As anyone sailing the area at that time knows, the real enemy was the weather. The Japanese came second.

The assigned mission of YP-397 was to maintain station in the area and identify all ships. Those not responding to the visual challenge ran the risk of an encounter with the awesome 4-inch monster! It was probably the largest caliber weapon in the area at that time. A further duty required of the ship was assisting in the make-up of convoys in Icy Strait. The submarine menace there was not to be taken lightly for it was here that the ships were joining up, forming convoys to make the crossing to Kodiak or Dutch Harbor. Easy pickings for a skillful and enterprising submarine commander.

YP-397 was to maintain this patrol on an almost continuous basis. Stores and other light requirements could be obtained at Port Althorp (58-09N/136-19W about 10 miles SE of Cape Spencer) by sending in the ship’s motor launch.

Alternate points of supply were Pelican (57-58N/136-14W) and Excursion Inlet.  (North of Icy Strait)

Considering some of the weird collection of maritime relics exhumed from various bone yards, Lightship 113 by comparison was a jewel. Her modern propulsion plant was years ahead of it’s time. The propeller shaft was turned by means of a 350 HP electric motor driven by any or all of four 75 KW diesel engine/generator sets. The result was an easy 9 knot cruise with a sustained 10 at full speed. If need be the plant could deliver enough power for short periods to top 12 knots. This was a sturdy seagoing ship, 133 feet in length and well over 650 tons displacement.

         

POST WWII

After WWII, Lightship 113 returned to her regular station and duties, again manning SWIFTSURE Bank Station until 1961. She then briefly manned the Umatilla Station and then became RELIEF until 1968 when she was decommissioned on 1 October having completed 38 years of hard continuous service.

The ship was donated to the Sea Scouts but later returned to the USCG and was then sold for scrap. In 1982 while at a shipyard on the Willamette River (Portland, OR) the ship sank. Raised and again sold, the ship went to Newport OR and served as a floating restaurant from 1983 to 1987. Sold again in 1988 she was taken in tow bound for Ketchikan, AK but on June 16 sank in 590 feet of water.  A sad ending for a valiant old ship but perhaps she chose her own time and place – at sea, in waters she knew so well.

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