USS Chincoteague is Prime Example of Eastern Shore Importance


Part 2 of the Boat Series

By Linda Cicoira — The importance of the Eastern Shore of Virginia to the United States is evident as several commissioned ships of the Navy were named after places here.

The USS Chincoteague is a prime example. Ship Commander Ira Earl Hobbs, who retired as a Navy Vice Admiral, was awarded the Silver Star for actions during WWII aboard the vessel, “Which was damaged and under repeated attacks by Japanese bombers in the vicinity of the Santa Cruz Islands” between July 16 and 21,1943. “Commander Hobbs skillfully maneuvered his ship and opposed repeated attacks of the enemy during this period, and although his ship was damaged by fire and flooding, he coolly and tenaciously fought against overwhelming and discouraging odds. His action resulted in his ship and surviving personnel being saved,” according to award documents.

The Chincoteague received six battle stars for World War II service. A seaplane tender of the Barnegat class, it was built by Lake Washington Shipyard and was launched April 15, 1942. It was commissioned about a year later and served the Navy until December 1946.

Chincoteague sailed from San Diego for Saboe Bay in the Santa Cruz Island arriving on July 6, 1943, to support the New Guinea operations as tender for Fleet Air Wing 1. On July 16, “The Japanese launched eight air attacks at Saboe Bay, killing nine of Chincoteague’s crew and damaging the ship badly through one direct hit and two near hits,” the Navy reported.

“Dead in the water and adrift, she endured intermittent attacks,” another file stated. “The next day, destroyer USS Thornton arrived, and took the ship … to Espiritu Santo for emergency repairs.” Chincoteague was later taken to San Francisco for a “thorough overhaul.”

In January 1944, Chincoteague set out for Pearl Harbor in support of the consolidation of the northern Solomons, the occupation of the Marshalls, air action on the Treasuries, and at Green Island. The boat carried “freight, mail, and passengers among the Solomons, Marshalls, Gilberts, Marianas, New Hebrides, and the Phoenix Islands, and voyaged from Guadalcanal to Auckland, New Zealand, returning with aircraft engines. Escorting a convoy, Chincoteague sailed from Eniwetok (in September) for Pearl Harbor, and overhaul.”

Chincoteague returned to active operations in December 1944 at Kossol Roads in the Palaus, “Where she conducted salvage and rescue operations for the next two months. She arrived at Guam Feb. 13, to join the assault force bound for Iwo Jima, and on Feb. 20, arrived off the bitterly contested island to tend seaplanes until March 8. Similar operations at Ulithi followed until June 8, when she sailed for a west coast overhaul.”

“On occupation duty, Chincoteague sailed to the Far East to care for seaplanes at Okinawa and Tsingtao, China,” between October 1945 and March 1946. One record shows Chincoteague was decommissioned and placed in reserve in 1946, and in March 1949 the vessel was lent to the Coast Guard. Redesignated a High Endurance Cutter in 1966, Chincoteague served until June 1972.

The Chincoteague was transferred to South Vietnam later that month and was renamed RVNS Tran Binh Trong. The boat was sold to the Philippines in April 1976 and renamed RPS Andres Bonifacto. The vessel was decommissioned in June 1985. The final fate of the Chincoteague was listed as “unknown.”

There were also Navy vessels named USS Saxis, USS Tangier, USS Accomack, and the USS Oyster Bay. The USS Wachapreague was featured in Part 1 of this series. Information about all the boats continues in this article. There was also a Coast Guard boat called USCGC Assateague.

The USS Oyster Bay had to be named after the waterway near Chincoteague, as the boat was built around the same time as the USS Chincoteague and the USS Wachapreague and in the same place. Oyster Bay also tended patrol torpedo boats at the same time as Wachapreague.

The 1,760-ton Oyster Bay was commissioned in November 1943 and departed San Diego in January 1944 for the Southwest Pacific. It “tended PT boat squadrons in the forward area almost continuously through the end of the war,” records show.

Ending service at Milne Bay, “Oyster Bay served in numerous operations in the New Guinea area, supporting her PT boats and, on at least one occasion, providing gunfire support for army troops ashore. In October 1944 Oyster Bay moved to Leyte Gulf as part of the Philippine campaign. She participated in operations at several locations in the Philippines and continued to tend PT boats there for the remainder of the war. She departed the Philippines in November 1945 for inactivation at San Francisco. She was decommissioned in March 1946, stricken from the Navy List in April, and transferred to the Maritime Commission for sale in August.”

Three years later, Oyster Bay was reacquired and reinstated by the Navy. The boat was reclassified and remained in reserve until 1957 when she was reactivated for transfer to Italy. The vessel was given a large seaplane crane and a single 3”/50 gun. It eventually became Pietro Cavezzale, an Italian special forces tender serving in the Italian Navy for more than 35 years. The boat was decommissioned in October 1993 and scrapped in February 1996.

The USS Saxis was a Navy patrol vessel in 1917. Built as a civilian motorboat of the same name by a man named Thomas Scott. The Navy acquired the Saxis from the Virginia Fish Commission May 5, 1917, during World War I. “Saxis was wrecked when she became stranded at West Point, Va.,” in July 1917, according to Navy records. It was unclear if the vessel was commissioned or saw Navy service before that.

The USS Accomac, a 187-ton tugboat, was built for commercial use in 1891 at Newport News, Va. Seven years later the vessel was acquired by the Navy and named USS Algonquin. During the Spanish-American War, Algonquin was assigned to Key West, Fla., and was later renamed Accomac.

The boat served at several East Coast and Gulf Coast Navy facilities, including Boston Navy Yard, and was renamed again around 1920 as the Nottoway. During World War II, the boat was renamed YT-18 in 1942 and YTL-18 in 1944. “Placed out of service in April 1946, the old tug was sold the following October,” the record stated.

The USS Tangier was placed in full commission Aug 25, 1941, and assigned to the Asiatic-Pacific Theater during WWII. The Tangier supported and consolidated operations at Pearl Harbor from Aug. 1 to Sept. 17, 1944, and was involved in the Bismarck Archipelago operations from March 31 to April 17, 1944. Tangier earned three battle stars.

After the war, the boat was assigned to Occupation Service in the Far East and China Service in October, November, and December 1945 and February and March 1946. Tangier was decommissioned in January 1947 at Philadelphia and was laid up in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet, Philadelphia Naval Shipyard Group. Eventually, records show, Tangier was struck from the Naval Register June 1, 1961, and was sold to Union Minerals and Alloys Corp of New York City in 1962 for $177,689.89. Tangier was soon sold again to Sea-Land Service and renamed SS Detroit and converted to a car carrier/container ship. The boat was scrapped at Valencia, Spain, in December 1974.

The USCGC Assateague was an island class cutter constructed at Bollinger Machine Shop and Shipyard in Lockport, La., and commissioned in 1990. Assateague supported multi-mission operations throughout Sector Guam, which included the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone surrounding Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. It conducted search and rescue response missions and coastal security operations. Assateague is 110 feet long, has a beam of 21 feet, and a draft of seven feet when it was constructed. Its “hull is made from highly strong steel, and the superstructure and major deck are constructed from aluminum.” Island class boats can go nearly 30 knots. Assateague was decommissioned in September 2017.

Tales of the USS Wachapreague, in last week’s edition of the Eastern Shore Post, caused Robert Doughty, of South Chesconessex, to recall some of his Coast Guard memories. The Wachapreague later became the USCGC McCulloch on which Doughty served from September 1968 to April 1970 doing ocean station patrols.

“The patrols were from 31 to 33 days duration on station,” he said. “We were in the middle of the Atlantic halfway between the continents. Our purpose was for transatlantic air flight to get a fix on our location and the point of no return if an aircraft had to ditch.”

“We collected weather data and sent it back to National Weather Service, in Washington DC We were there for search and rescue or recovery, which we had a couple of those. I was a radioman, morse code operation, crypto, and radio teletype. It was a great experience for a 20-year-old and you rekindled some fond memories,” he wrote to a reporter earlier this week.

Tuesday. Jill McCabe, of Salisbury, Md., told about her brother, John Lewis,, of Saxis, who also served in the Coast Guard on the McCulloch. In 1959, Lewis was lost at sea during a bravo patro. in the North Atlantic between Greenland and Labrador.

“He was swept off in a bad storm,” McCabe said. “The waves were up to 60 feet.” Lewis was only 19.

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