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USS Albemarle (AV-5) on 8 August 1942
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Class:        CURTISS (AV-4)
Design:        Navy AV-4
Displacement (tons):        8,671 light, 13,475 max.
Dimensions (feet):        527.3' oa x 69.25' e x 21.3' max.
Original Armament:        4-5"/38 (1941: both)
Later armaments:        4-5"/38 10<22-20mm (1942: both);
4-5"/38 4-40mmQ 20>12-20mm (1943-47: AV-4);
4-5"/38 3-40mmQ 2-40mmT 20>12-20mm (1943-47: AV-5); 2-5"/38 3-40mmQ 2-40mmT (1947-48: AV-5);
2-5"/38 5-40mmQ 4<6-20mmT (1947-51: AV-4);
2-5"/38 4-40mmQ 2-40mmT 4-20mmT (1952-55: AV-5); 2-5"/38 4-40mmQ 4-20mmT (1952-55: AV-4); 2-5"/38 4-40mmQ (1957: AV-5);
4-40mmQ 6>4-20mmT (1955-59: AV-4)
Complement:        --
Speed (kts.):        19.7
Propulsion (HP):        12,000
Machinery:        NYSB Parsons turbines, 2 screws

AV Name Ord. Builder Keel Launch Commiss.
4 CURTISS 27 Dec 37 New York SB 25 Apr 38 20 Apr 40 15 Nov 40
5 ALBEMARLE 14 Oct 38 New York SB 12 Jun 39 13 Jul 40 20 Dec 40

AV Name Decomm. Strike Disposal Fate MA Sale
4 CURTISS 24 Sep 57 1 Jul 63 1 Jul 63 MA 10 Jan 72
5 ALBEMARLE 1974 31 Dec 74 17 Jul 75 MA 17 Jul 75

Class Notes:
FY 1938 (AV-4), 1939 (AV-5). Construction of AV-4 was directed by SecNav on 29 Aug 36 as part of the Fiscal Year 1938 building program, while construction of AV-5 was directed on 20 Jul 38 as part of the Fiscal Year 1939 building program.

On 17 Apr 31 the Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet wrote CNO that in the past two years the fleet had received in considerable quantities new long range patrol (VP class) airplanes that were capable of flying great distances. While in the past the use of converted minesweepers (see the AVP-1 class) as VP tenders had been reasonably satisfactory, these were now too small and, until suitable tenders were furnished, the full capabilities of VP aircraft could not be realized. This was a critical issue as any attempt of the battle fleet to advance across the Pacific required aircraft that could search over a distance of a thousand miles. Attempts to obtain aircraft with this endurance failed until late 1933, when the Navy began ordering the two-engine Consolidated PBY Catalina. The success of the Catalina meant that within a few years sufficient quantities of long-range VP aircraft could be available to support an ocean offensive provided that suitable tenders were available to support them.

On 27 Sep 33 the Secretary of the Navy wrote to the Navy's General Board, stating that the latest military characteristics of naval auxiliaries had been drawn up in 1914 and directing that these characteristics be brought up to date. In December and January the Board developed drafts of revised characteristics for the types of large auxiliary vessels that the Navy had built in 1914-1917: destroyer tenders (AD), ammunition ships (AE), provision storeships (AF), hospital ships (AH), oilers (AO), transports (AP), repair ships (AR), and submarine tenders (AS). On 12 Jan 34, as a supplement to these, the Board submitted a tentative draft of the characteristics for a type not previously built, aircraft tenders (heavier than air) (AV). These ships were to serve as a mobile base for 36 VP-type patrol seaplanes (3 squadrons), have at least 15 knots sustained speed and an endurance of 6,000 miles at that speed, twin screws, an armament of 4-5" or 6" guns, and at least 3 cranes of 15-ton capacity for handling the seaplanes including one at the stern. They were to have stowage for six or more disassembled planes and clear deck space large enough to permit assembling at least one plane and located so that aircraft could be moved between the cranes. The tenders were to be able to refuel planes directly from the ship at five or more stations.

In November and December 1933 the Preliminary Design Section of the Bureau of Construction and Repair (BuC&R) developed a design for a 500-foot, 13,000-ton (full load) seaplane tender that probably inspired some of the General Board's characteristics. It was a diesel-powered ship with an 80-foot wide airplane deck 52 feet above the water over the after two thirds of the ship's length that could carry 7 to 10 assembled planes of unspecified type or 14-16 planes with wings removed. The ship had one 20-ton crane aft to lift aircraft onto the deck, one 15-ton crane amidships to put refueled and rearmed aircraft back into the water, and two 15-ton cranes forward to put back into the water aircraft that had been repaired at the forward end of the deck and to handle the ship's boats. The diesel engines were placed as far aft as possible and their exhaust would be vented through the kingpost of the after crane, which doubled as a smokestack. Holds for 14 spare or reserve aircraft fuselages and their wings, engines, etc., were placed amidships, and 3 more fuselages could be stowed in the hatches to these holds. The relatively compact superstructure at the forward end of the ship included all four of the ship's 5"/38 dual purpose guns in vertical echelon on the centerline, the after pair being raised enough to clear the forward pair of aircraft cranes. The draft was kept as low as possible (19.25 feet was achieved) to facilitate the use of shallow harbors by the ship. In January 1934 the Bureau prepared a tentative plan for converting the 508-foot long, 20-knot burned-out liner MORRO CASTLE to a seaplane tender, a design that Preliminary Design felt was at least as satisfactory as its new construction design, although this design effort stopped when the Bureau learned in March that the badly damaged hulk was hopelessly hogged.

In their June 1934 comments on the General Board's characteristics the Bureau of Aeronautics, BuC&R and CNO all recommended an increase of sustained speed to 20 knots, BuAer (led by Rear Admiral E. J. King) stating that speed was of the utmost importance to allow the tenders to keep the VP squadrons moving as fast as possible. CNO also suggested reducing the supported force from 36 to 24 planes to permit reducing the size of the ship. The General Board in its final characteristics promulgated on 8 Jan 35 contented itself with the same sustained speed (16.5 knots), endurance (10,000 miles), and armament (four 5" or 6" guns, single purpose sufficient) that it had adopted for the other contemporary new large auxiliaries. It accepted the reduction to 24 VP-type aircraft. On 12 Mar 35 BuAer, noting that BuC&R was about to undertake a new design study of a tender for 24 patrol planes, renewed its appeal to the General Board for a 20-knot ship, this time as a maximum speed that would produce a sustained speed of 18 knots BuC&R and BuEng estimated that the displacement and length of the faster design would increase slightly, the power would go up by about 40 percent (leading to a shift from diesels to steam turbines), and the cost would rise by about 9 percent. On 3 Jul 35, citing "the experimental nature of this type," the General Board accepted the 18-knot sustained speed.

BuC&R revisited its December 1933 preliminary design between March and July 1935. The spare aircraft fuselages and the main propulsion machinery swapped positions, the fuselages moving to a 160-foot long hangar in the stern under the after portion of the aircraft assembly deck and the engines and boilers that replaced the diesels moving forward. The repair shops were placed under the hangar. The hangar was filled with six spare P2Y aircraft fuselages (the P2Y was the immediate predecessor of the PBY Catalina) plus spare wings and tail surfaces. The clear assembly deck measured about 220 x 73 feet, enough for the assembly and handling of at least two planes. One stern crane of 20 tons capacity was to handle planes on and off the ship and two 15-ton wing cranes were to provide hatchway and transfer services. Two of the four 5" guns were moved to the stern aft of the hangar and below the assembly deck. Otherwise the 128-foot long forward superstructure was mostly copied from the 1933 design. A 4-bulkhead system of torpedo protection was added over the machinery spaces. On 20 Sep 35 the General Board promulgated new characteristics that reflected many of these design changes.

On 2 Dec 35 BuC&R asked BuAer if the design needed to include stowage for the fuselages of the much larger 4-engine VP aircraft (XPBS-1) then in development. BuAer replied on 3 Jan 36 that it sufficed to provide for stowage of four 2-engine fuselages, but it then stated that, appreciating the difficulties of providing an elevator or hatch of sufficient dimensions to strike twin-engine fuselages with center sections in place below deck, it had studied an alternate scheme using a stern crane to lift the fuselages to the fantail and then roll them forward into a hangar with a stern opening closed by roller curtains. This arrangement required low freeboard aft, and BuAer acknowledged that a way would have to be found to keep following seas out of the hangar. The bureaus settled on a design option that provided for keeping one spare fuselage in the hangar and three on the weather deck. By now the main purpose of the hangar was to permit work on a single damaged plane to be carried on actively in inclement weather and under "darken ship" conditions when work would otherwise be impossible. One of the disadvantages of this layout was that there was no good location for the after two 5" guns, which ended up on the hangar roof.

On 9 Mar 36 BuC&R forwarded to CNO and the other Bureaus a new preliminary design that adopted the configuration suggested by BuAer and essentially represented the ship as built. It had weather deck space for two fully assembled 4-engine or three 2-engine planes and hangar space for the fuselage and center wing section of one plane. Alternatively the ship could transport six 2-engine planes or four 4-engine planes with their outer wing panels removed. Reflecting changes already made in the design, on 13 Aug 37 the General Board changed the main battery in its characteristics to 4-5"/38 dual purpose guns on the centerline, and on 15 Aug 38 it approved mounting the two after 5" guns on top of the hangar in horizontal echelon. BuC&R submitted contract plans to CNO on 23 Sep 37 for SecNav approval and the first ship, CURTISS (AV-4) was ordered on 27 Dec 37. On 20 Jul 38 BuC&R informed BuOrd that the second ship of the class, AV-5, would have the same military characteristics as AV-4 and would use the same contract plans except for those of the hangar, which had been substantially enlarged since the contract plans for AV-4 were drawn. To suit the enlarged hangar, Nos. 3 and 4 5-inch mounts had been moved upward and outboard.

In postwar activity, AV-5 was rebuilt under the Fiscal Year 1956 program (SCB project 134) to handle the P6M long-range nuclear strike jet seaplane at NSY Philadelphia between 15 Aug 56 and 28 Oct 58 and was fitted with a special aircraft servicing boom for supporting the aircraft while afloat alongside and an aircraft recovery ramp on the stern, which could bring the aircraft on board ship without using a crane. AV-4 was considered for a similar conversion in FY-1957 but AV-7 (q.v.) was selected instead. The P6M program was cancelled on 21 August 1959 after only three production aircraft had been delivered, partly because of the advent of a much more effective nuclear deterrent system, the Polaris ballistic missile submarine. AV-4 was then briefly considered for conversion to a satellite launching ship, SCB project 218 (unofficial designation AGSL) in August 1960. AV-5 was again rebuilt as a MSC-operated helicopter maintenance ship (ARVH) to support Army helicopters in Vietnam at NSY Charleston between late 1964 and 11 Jan 66, when she was transferred to MSC for operation. In August 1966 the Army and Navy agreed on conversion of a second ARVH and the Navy planned to turn over AV-4 for this purpose, but the Defense Department did not include the project in the Fiscal Year 1967 program. For the following fiscal year the Army requested conversion of AV-7 (q.v.) instead.

Ship Notes:
AV Name Notes
4 CURTISS In USN reserve 1957-62. To NDRF 31 Oct 62, to buyer 1 Apr 72.
5 ALBEMARLE In USN reserve 1950-57 (decommisioned 14 Aug 50). Recommissioned 21 Oct 57 as a tender for the planned P6M jet seaplane, decommissioned 21 Oct 60 and to NDRF 26 Oct 60. Stk. and to MA 1 Sep 62, from MA 7 Aug 64, reinst. 27 Mar 65 as CORPUS CHRISTI BAY (ARVH-1).

Page Notes:
AV        1938
Compiled:        12 Jul 2008
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2008