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USS Altair (AD-11) circa the early 1930s
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Class: ALTAIR (AD-11)
Design EFC 1079
Displacement (tons): 5,910 light, 10,000 full
Dimensions (feet): 423.75' oa, 410.5 pp x 54.0' x 21.3' mx
Original Armament: None on board (1921-1939)
Later armaments: 4-3"/50 (1939: AD-11)
4-5"/51 4-3"/50 (1940: AD-12)
4-3"/50 2<16-20mm (1942: AR-11);
2-5"/51 4-3"/50 2-1.1"Q 8-20mm (1942: AD-12);
1-5"/51 4-3"/50 3-1.1"Q 8-20mm (1943: AD-11);
4-3"/50 2-1.1"Q 2-40mmS 8-20mm (1944: AD-12); 4-3"/50 2-40mmT 2-40mmS 8-20mm (1945: AD 12); 4-3"/50 2-40mmS 16-20mm (1945: AD-11); 4-3"/50 4- 40mmT 6-20mmT (1946: AD 11)
Complement: 483 (1929)
Speed (kts.): 10.5
Propulsion (HP): 2,500
Machinery: G. E. Curtis geared turbine, 1 screw
||5 Dec 21
||Skinner & Eddy
||18 Dec 18
||10 May 19
||6 Dec 21
||Skinner & Eddy
||27 Nov 18
||19 Apr 19
||28 Nov 21
||16 Nov 21
||Skinner & Eddy
||16 Sep 18
||23 Nov 18
||24 Feb 22
||28 Jun 46
||31 Jul 46
||8 Jul 46
||10 Feb 48
||9 Apr 46
||8 May 46
||30 Jun 46
||19 Jul 50
||11 Jul 46
||28 Aug 46
||12 Jul 46
||10 Feb 48
As World War I receded the Navy realized that many of its pre-war auxiliary vessels were reaching the end of their useful lives, that Congress would not provide appropriations for replacements, and that the huge wartime destroyer construction program was creating a need for more destroyer tenders. In July 1919 the Navy asked for five ex-German passenger vessels, USS POWHATAN, POCAHONTAS, SUSQUEHANNA, HURON, and ANTIGONE (ID-3013, 3044, 3016, 1408, and 3007) for use as destroyer tenders but these ships were needed for the postwar American merchant marine. The Navy in September 1919 then arranged to get two incomplete Hog Island Type "B" troop transports, then carrying the Army names ERIE (hull 673) and SANTIAGO (hull 677), for conversion into destroyer tenders, but these plans fell through in January 1920. (See WRIGHT, AV-1, for more details on this abortive effort.) Realizing that the Shipping Board had a large number of surplus vessels from its wartime building program that would fill its needs, the Navy learned from its lawyers in 1920 that ships could be acquired from the Shipping Board by Presidential Executive Order and entered into negotiations with the Shipping Board that by 17 Oct 21 had reached the stage at which 27 specific hulls (12 tankers, 3 refrigerating ships, 11 cargo ships, and one passenger & cargo ship) had been selected. On 29 Oct 21 Executive Order No. 3570 authorized the transfers. SecNav on 2 Nov 21 assigned new Navy names to 17 of the ships and directed that five tankers (AO 15-18 and 21) retain their previous names. By then another five Shipping Board tankers, AO 9-13, were already in Navy custody under their previous names.
Three new EFC Design 1079 freighters were selected to relieve the old destroyer tenders PANTHER, LEONIDAS, and PRAIRIE. On 2 Nov 21 CNO instructed the Commandant, 5th Naval District, to have DENEBOLA (ex S.S. EDGEWOOD) relieve LEONIDAS. LEONIDAS was brought alongside DENEBOLA at the Norfolk Navy Yard during November 1921, the crew of the old ship and many of its stores and equipment were transferred to the new ship, and the old and new ship were then simultaneously decommissioned and commissioned. On 2 Nov 21 CNO also instructed the Commandant, 3rd Naval District, to place ALTAIR (ex EDISTO) and RIGEL (ex EDGECOMBE) in commission at the New York Navy Yard and direct them to proceed to the Pacific with minimum crew and equipment to relieve PANTHER and PRAIRIE respectively at San Diego, PANTHER having been ordered there from the Asiatic Station. As of 8 Dec 21 PANTHER had instead been ordered to New York to be relieved there. On the way she stopped at the Philadelphia Navy Yard to pick up machine tools from closed defense factories for ALTAIR and RIGEL.
ALTAIR was the only one of the trio to see continuous active service between the wars. RIGEL was briefly attached to the Battle Fleet in the Pacific, but with this fleet's two destroyer squadrons, Desrons 11 and 12, tended by MELVILLE and ALTAIR, RIGEL was reassigned in 1923 to the 11th Naval District as tender with destroyers out of commission and receiving ship at the Destroyer Base at San Diego. In August 1924 DENEBOLA was replaced by the newly-completed DOBBIN as tender to one of the Scouting Fleet's two destroyer squadrons, Desron 14, in the Atlantic and was placed in reserve at Philadelphia.
In the fall of 1939 the Navy decided to recommission DENEBOLA as a tender to support destroyers on neutrality patrol and a contract for necessary repairs, alterations, and new installations was awarded to the Bethlehem Steel Co., Baltimore, MD. The ship was towed from Philadelphia to Baltimore via the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and upon arrival on 16 Jan 40 was placed in commission in ordinary. The refurbished ship was placed in full commission on 6 Apr 40 and departed for Norfolk on 9 Apr 40 for shakedown training. She then returned to Baltimore to have flag quarters installed. Her armament was installed at Philadelphia in late June 1940. This work resulted in the enclosure of most of her boat deck, a conspicuous change made at about the same time in BOREAS (AF-8) and to a lesser degree in DENEBOLA's two sisters.
The designation of RIGEL was changed to ARb-1 (Base Repair Ship) on 10 Apr 41. This reclassification was probably based on the slow speed, obsolete repair equipment, and general lack of tender facilities of the ship cited by CNO's War Plans Division on 9 Aug 39. RIGEL departed San Diego on 1 May 41 and arrived at Pearl Harbor on 12 Jul 41 where extensive repairs and alterations to her superstructure were begun. On 22 Dec 41 her designation was changed again, to AR-11 (Repair Ship). The second reclassification was done "to cut down on the large number of classifications exisiting at present. The RIGEL performs the functions of a Repair Ship for various small vessels (DMS, AM, etc.) and is the only vessel having the classification of ARb." During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor RIGEL lay at a pier without guns and stripped of her superstructure, but work on reconditioning her as a repair ship was then accelerated and she departed for the South Pacific in April 1942.
In 1923 armaments of 4-5"/51 and 4-3"/50AA were reserved at Navy Yards for these ships but guns were not put on board until the eve of World War II. When inclined on 21 Feb 39 AD-11 had 2-3"/50AA forward and 2 more aft. The newly recommissioned AD-12 had her full intended armament on board on 25 Jun 40. AR-11 (ex AD-13) embarked her armament of 4-3"/50 on 15 Apr 42 at Pearl Harbor. AD-11 later got one 5"/51 gun but by the end of the war the main armament of all three ships was 4-3"/50 AA guns.
||Ex merc. EDISTO (ID-4156, completed 17 Jun 19). Replaced PANTHER. To buyer 9 Mar 48, scrapped by 27 Apr 48.
||Ex merc. EDGEWOOD (ID-4022, completed 26 May 19). Replaced LEONIDAS. Decomm. 9 Aug 24 at Phila. Recomm. in ordinary 16 Jan 40, full 6 Apr 40. To buyer 18 Aug 50, scrapped by 2 Jan 51.
||Ex merc. EDGECOMBE (ID-3894, completed 24 Dec 18). Served in NOTS (to be listed separately). Replaced PRAIRIE. To ARb-1 10 Apr 41, to AR-11 22 Dec 41. To buyer 17 Mar 48, scrapped by 12 Jul 48.
Compiled: 30 Apr 2012
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2012