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The catapult lighter USS AVC-1 on 9 January 1941
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Class: Catapult Lighter AVC-1
Design: Navy AVC-1
Displacement (tons): 2,275 light, 5,861 normal
Dimensions (feet): 423.8' oa, 420.0' pp x 57.0' e x 9.75' norm.
Original Armament: None
Later armaments: 2-20mm (1944); none (1955)
Complement: 41 (1944)
Speed (kts.): --
Propulsion (HP): --
Machinery: Non-self propelled
||29 Mar 39
||19 Feb 40
||17 Aug 40
||17 Dec 41
||8 Dec 49
||18 Oct 55
||24 Apr 56
FY 1939. On 14 Mar 38 the Bureau of Aeronautics informed the Bureau of Construction and Repair that it was considering building a waterborne catapult unit as part of its effort to develop a long range patrol plane with a large bomb load. It noted that aircraft generally could carry a considerably greater load once airborne than they could while taking off and that, if this limitation could be overcome, the range of patrol planes could be doubled and possible trebled or their armament load could be increased "to a remarkable extent." BuAer thus contemplated developing a catapult unit that would be stationed at permanent bases and that could be built in large enough numbers to achieve a rapid launch rate from the base. They also wanted at least three of these units to be sufficiently portable to enable movement to advanced bases. The first step would be to incorporate a catapult in a barge for testing purposes. The Preliminary Design Section of BuC&R produced a drawing for a 396-foot catapult lighter on 11 Apr 38. On 18 May 38 BuAer asked CNO to include one test lighter in a program then before Congress for the construction of experimental vessels of under 3,000 tons during Fiscal Year 1939. On 7 Jun 38 CNO informed BuAer that the Navy had been informed that this item was not to be included in the experimental building program for the current year and asked BuAer to resubmit it for Fiscal Year 1940. On 10 Aug 38 CNO directed the Bureaus involved to include it in their estimates for the 1940 budget (this became the legal directive for construction of the vessel). On 12 Dec 38 SecNav directed the General Board to recommend the types and numbers of vessels to be included in the building program for experimental small vessels that had been authorized on 17 May 38 and funded on 25 Jun 38 and noted that the approved legislation did not define these as to either type or number. The program as finally implemented included the catapult lighter as well as numerous experimental designs for patrol craft (PC 449-453, PT 1-20, and PTC 1-12).
In March 1939 the Philadelphia Navy Yard was designated to construct the lighter, which was to carry a Type XH Mark III (XH-III or XH-3) hydraulic catapult that was then being developed. This catapult would launch a 60,000 pound XPBM-2 flying boat at a speed of 120 mph. On 19 May 38 the catapult lighter was classed as an "Auxiliary Vessel - Catapult Lighter" and assigned the symbol "AVC," and on 1 Jun 38 BuC&R assigned the number AVC-1 to the vessel. In July BuC&R requested the plans of the XPBM-2 aircraft that was being developed for the lighter, and in August CNO approved the specifications for the vessel that had been recommended by the General Board following much discussion between the Bureaus. The Philadelphia Navy Yard built the hull as rapidly as possible because it wanted to then build TERROR (CM-5) on the same building ways. Following the launching in August 1940, however, the yard suspended all work on the lighter until the catapult equipment was delivered. On 26 Jul 41 BuC&R informed Philadelphia that the catapult machinery had been delivered or soon would be, and on 19 Aug 41 the Yard submitted its schedule for resuming work. They estimated that the catapult would be installed by 1 Dec 41 and, after testing, the vessel would be available for aircraft launching tests around 15 Mar 42. These tests would be conducted from a mooring and the installation of the propulsion motors, shafting, etc. in the design would be deferred until after the initial launching tests. On 26 Nov 41 Philadelphia told CNO that it wanted the craft to be manned by her own complement when the catapult machinery was tested in late December and that it had received no information as to whether AVC-1 was to be commissioned as a naval vessel or merely placed in service. It wanted to do one or the other on 17 Dec 41. CNO replied that, as AVC-1 was experimental and would probably continue in that category indefinitely, it would be operated in an "in service" status under the Commandant, 4th Naval District in accordance with Article 636(2) of Navy Regulations. Delays in delivery of catapult equipment continued until May 1942, when the Naval Aircraft Factory told Philadelphia that it understood that the installation of the catapult was complete and urged that some remaining minor tests be deferred and that the launching of the XPBM-2 aircraft, which was available at the Naval Aircraft Factory, be conducted prior to 20 May 42. It seems likely that test launches of the aircraft began at around this time, and they were completed before the end of 1942.
In the meantime, BuAer had informed BuShips on 6 Jan 42 that it had developed plans for a large capacity hydro-pneumatic catapult (XH-VII) and crane to be installed on catapult barges of the AVC type that were slightly larger than AVC-1. This catapult would launch the 120,000 pound PBB seaplane at a speed of 130 mph. BuAer planned to procure six XH-VII catapults during 1943 and asked BuShips to develop a design and procurement program to coincide with the catapult deliveries. BuShips informed CNO and SecNav of this request, stated that the lighter for the XH-VII catapult would be about 475 feet overall and have a light displacement of 3,100 tons compared with 2,275 tons for AVC-1, and stated that because of the current overload of shipbuilding facilities it did not want to design this vessel unless the Department planned to include it in the Auxiliary Vessels Program. BuAer objected, but then reconsidered and cancelled its request on 17 Jun 42 in light of wartime experience with patrol seaplanes and the shortage of shipbuilding facilities. On 22 Jun 42 CNO approved BuAer's alternative request to build one XH-VII catapult for testing on AVC-1, but the cancellation at about the same time of the contract for the PBB aircraft for which it had been designed led to the cancellation of this plan as well.
On 25 Jun 43 BuAer asked Commander Aircraft, Pacific Fleet for recommendations on what to do with AVC-1. It had successfully catapulted the XPBM-2 aircraft and served its purpose as a prototype for a larger catapult barge for the XPBB-1 aircraft which, however, had been cancelled. BuAer noted that the barge could be provided with self-propulsion at about five knots if essential, but added that this feature was not then installed in the barge. ComAirPac recommended it be used as a mobile aviation store ship in advance areas in the Pacific, an idea that BuAer and BuShips both supported. While studies of this idea continued, BuShips noted on 23 Aug 43 that the conversion of the net layers AN 1-2 to combined Vehicle and Troop Transports (AP 160-161) had been directed on 19 Jul 43 but that unforeseen difficulties had arisen in the design of a stern ramp to launch amphibious vehicles from these vessels. BuShips recommended that a mock-up of the stern ramp for these vessels be installed on AVC-1 and that the Philadelphia Navy Yard actually launch amphibious vehicles from it into the water. However Philadelphia replied that they had already built such a mock-up on a seawall at the Yard and would not need AVC-1 for these tests.
On 14 Jan 44 BuShips proposed using the idle AVC-1 as a testbed for its system of "Readiness and Care of Inactive Ships." This system applied to ships in the status of "in commission in reserve" and those "out of commission in reserve." The Bureau noted that AVC-1 was then berthed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard "In Service" not in commission with one officer and about 40 men on board. The Bureau desired to apply to this ship the care and preservation measures applicable to inactive ships without other changes in the vessel's status. These measures included the preservation of corrodible parts of machinery with a thin film preservative and the dehumidification of the entire interior of the ship. It noted that the ex-TAYLOR (DD-94), on which it was intended to conduct these experiments, had been found unsuitable. CNO approved this plan on 26 Jan 44, and by 20 Feb 44 BuShips was taking steps to extend it to other vessels, including CRANESHIP #1 (AB-1), OLYMPIA (IX-40), SEATTLE (IX-39), and DOVER (IX-30). AVC-1 was assigned to the NORTH STAR Preservation Group at Philadelphia in July 1944 and on 16 Dec 44 CNO placed her in the status "In Service, In Reserve" as described by Article 637(1)(c) of Navy Regulations.
On 3 Mar 45 AVC-1 was placed "in commission in reserve" and made available for experimental work developing improved methods of preservation of inactive vessels. On 12 Oct 45 OpNav disapproved the assignment of the vessel to the reserve fleet because her retention following the tests was not desired, although her preservation was to be maintained as at present. Com-4 reported that she was decommissioned and placed in service on 13 Aug 47. On 3 Nov 47 CNO authorized the removal of the XH-III catapult, main diesel engines, generators, and air compressors for permanent installation ashore at the Naval Air Material Center, Philadelphia. On 25 Jan 49 BuShips authorized the installation of prototype Mark 6 arresting gear, but this was probably not done and the lighter was placed out of service in reserve on 8 Dec 49. She was sold on 24 Apr 56 to the Boston Metals Co., Baltimore, Md., for scrapping.
Her career was apparently not yet over. According to a posting on the "Great Lakes and Seaway Shipping" web site (www.boatnerd.com), she was sold (probably resold by Boston Metals) to an east coast timber products company and converted at Jacksonville, Fla., to the undocumented pulpwood barge "Pulpwood No. 1." The Summer/Fall 2006 edition of "Abaco Life" (www.abacolife.com) states that a Bahamas logging operation called "Fishyback" used two barges, "Pulpwood No. 1" and "Pulpwood No. 2" that were the largest flat deck seagoing barges afloat at the time. This operation, which transported second-growth Caribbean pine logs from the Bahamas to a paper mill at Jacksonville, Fla., began on Grand Bahama, moved to Abaco in 1960 and to Andros in 1967. While at Abaco the tugs and barges made 768 round trips of 734 miles each between Snake Cay and Jacksonville. According to the "boatnerd" posting, the former "Pulpwood No. 1" entered Canadian documentation in 1979 as JEAN RAYMOND, owned by Reed Maritime Ltd., Quebec.
||See Class History.
Compiled: 29 Dec 2008
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2008