WHEC-327 Secretary Class
The 327-foot cutters were designed to meet changing missions of the service as it emerged from the Prohibition era. Because the air passenger trade was expanding both at home and overseas, the Coast Guard believed that cutter-based aircraft would be essential for future high-seas search and rescue. Also, during the mid-1930's, narcotics smuggling, mostly opium, was on the increase, and long-legged, fairly fast cutters were needed to curtail it. The 327's were an attempt to develop a 20-knot cutter capable of carrying an airplane in a hangar.
The "Treasury" class Coast Guard cutters (sometimes referred to as the "Secretary" or 327-foot class) were all named for former secretaries of the Treasury Department. Initially classified as Coast Guard Cruising Cutter or Gunboats (WPG), they were latter classified as Coast Guard Amphibious Force Command Ships [WAGC], and then finally as Coast Guard High Endurance Cutters [WHEC].
The final 327-foot design was based on the Erie-class Navy gunboats; the machinery plant and hull below the waterline were identical. This standardization saved money -- always paramount in the Coast Guard's considerations--and the cutters were built in U.S. Navy shipbuilding yards. Thirty-two preliminary designs of a modified Erie-class gunboat were drawn up before one was finally selected. The healthy sheer forward and the high slope in the deck in the wardrooms was known as the "Hunnewell Hump." Commander (Constructor) F. G. Hunnewell, USCG, was the head of the Coast Guard's Construction and Repair Department at that time.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began transferring portions of the Coast Guard piecemeal to the Navy several months before the Pearl Harbor attack. In May and June 1941, various vessels were transferred, the 14th Coast Guard District went to the Navy in August, and the whole service that November. All six of the Coast Guard's 327-foot cutters had been transferred to the Navy at least a month before the rest of the Service due to their value as escort ships.
When the United States entered World War II, the Coast Guard had already demonstrated its value in this country's national defense. For over a year the Coast Guard, with its large cutters and experienced seamen, had protected American interest in the North Atlantic. They had maintained patrols in Greenland and took a prominent role in the protection of America's seaborne commerce in this area. The 327 foot cutters in particular were well-suited for convoy duty in the North Atlantic. Because of their long-range and good sea-keeping qualities along with their speed and armament, the Navy Department put the entire class into naval service before the war began.
Since the outbreak of war had stopped the normal flow of weather radio reports from merchant ships, the Coast Guard established ship-based ocean weather stations in February 1940. Bibb and the other 327-foot cutters drew this assignment and set up continuous weather surveillance in a quadrangular area of the mid-Atlantic between the Azores and Bermuda. They alternated 25 days at sea with 15 days in port.
The Treasury class cutters proved to be highly dependable, versatile and long-lived warships -- most served their country for over 40 years. In the words of one naval historian, John M. Waters, Jr., they were truly their nation's "maritime workhorses." Waters continued: "the 327's battled, through the 'Bloody Winter' of 1942-43 in the North Atlantic--fighting off German U-boats and rescuing survivors from torpedoed convoy ships. They went on to serve as amphibious task force flagships, as search-and-rescue (SAR) ships during the Korean War, on weather patrol, and as naval gunfire support ships during Vietnam. Most recently, these ships-that-wouldn't-die have done duty in fisheries patrol and drug interdiction. . .Built for only $2.5 million each, in terms of cost effectiveness we may never see the likes of these cutters again."
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