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USNS ROSE KNOT (T-AGM 14) on 28 July 1965.

USNS Rose Knot (T-AGM 14) on 28 July 1965.
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Class: SWORD KNOT (T-AGM 13, C1-M-AV1)
Design: MC C1-M-AV1
Displacement (tons): 8,345 full
Dimensions (feet): 339' oa, 320' wl x 50' e/wl x 15'
Armament: none
Accommodations: 12 officers, 30 unlicensed
Speed (kts.): 10
Propulsion (HP): 1,700
Machinery: Diesel, 1 screw

13SWORD KNOT1 Jul 1964Consolidated Steel, Wilm.1 Feb 194514 Mar 19451 Jul 1964
14ROSE KNOT1 Jul 1964Pennsylvania SY13 Oct 19446 Dec 19441 Jul 1964
15COASTAL SENTRY1 Jul 1964Leathem D Smith SB9 Oct 194421 Jan 19451 Jul 1964
16COASTAL CRUSADER1 Jul 1964Leathem D Smith SB12 Apr 194524 Jun 19451 Jul 1964
17TIMBER HITCH1 Jul 1964Consolidated Steel, Long B.26 Aug 194412 Oct 19441 Jul 1964
18SAMPAN HITCH1 Jul 1964Walter Butler SB, Superior16 Jan 194512 Jul 19451 Jul 1964

AGMNameTInactStrikeDisposalFateMA Sale
13SWORD KNOTT19711 Apr 19717 Apr 1971MA15 May 1973
14ROSE KNOTT19689 Oct 196925 Oct 1968MA/T28 Jun 1977
15COASTAL SENTRYT19689 Oct 196920 Jun 1968MA/S--
16COASTAL CRUSADERT197130 Apr 197612 Apr 1977MA/S--
17TIMBER HITCHT19689 Oct 196925 Oct 1968MA/T27 Jul 1977
18SAMPAN HITCHT19689 Oct 196925 Jun 1968MA/T23 Apr 1973
Fates: MA (Custody to MA, misc. transfers); MA/S (Title to MA and ship sold by MA); MA/T (Title to MA, ship sold later)

Class Notes:
Five of these small C1-M-AV1 type ships were acquired by the Air Force in February 1956 for use on its Eastern (Test) Range, and a sixth, SAMPAN HITCH, was acquired in 1958 and arrived on the range in March 1959. They were larger than the first Air Force ships on the range, six Army FS ships including one that became RANGE RECOVERER (see AGM 2), but they originally resembled the smaller ships in having an antenna under a dome above each bridge wing. SWORD KNOT commenced service on the Eastern Range in January 1958 and TIMBER HITCH, ROSE KNOT, and COASTAL SENTRY followed in March 1958. They were used primarily for telemetry reception, weather data, and vehicle recovery. They were sometimes known as Ocean Range Vessels (ORV) until Range Instrumentation Ship (RIS) became the standard terminology. They were informally referred to as the "Cimavis", for C1-M-AV1's.

One of the significant early accomplishments of the ships came in 1958 when ROSE KNOT tracked a ballistic missile warhead to splashdown and then hoisted the vehicle aboard. It was the first recovery of a nose cone flown at intercontinental ranges. In March 1959 COASTAL CRUSADER recovered a Thor-Able missile data capsule. On 21 July 1959 COASTAL SENTRY fished from the sea a canister that had been ejected from an Atlas nose cone. It contained film that provided the first photographs taken in space by an ICBM. On 6 September 1961 SWORD KNOT recovered a Titan I reentry vehicle.

On 17 May 1960 the Air Force contributed ROSE KNOT and COASTAL SENTRY to the tracking station network that NASA was building for the Mercury program, and NASA filled the ships with new instrumentation, including a "command" system, which enabled the ship including the on-board capsule communicator to transmit commands to the spacecraft, and an "acquisition aid" system, which homed in on the spacecraft’s beacon and guided the command and telemetry antennas. In 1963, the two were back in the yards for more work, this time for Gemini. COASTAL SENTRY was Pacific Command Ship for the last Mercury flight, Gordon Cooper's Faith 7 in May 1963, and when a system failure forced the use of a manual retrofire for reentry the NASA capsule communicator embarked in COASTAL SENTRY, John Glenn, Jr., relayed the retrofire checklist spaceward and, on the spacecraft's next and final revolution, beamed the countdown to Cooper so that he could manually initiate the retrofire sequence that brought him down safely within view of the recovery ships. With two large quadruple helix telemetry antennas on their masts ROSE KNOT and COASTAL SENTRY supported the early unmanned Apollo missions beginning in 1961 but their participation ended before Apollo 6 in 1968. ("USNS ROSE KNOT VICTOR" was powered flight ship for Apollo 4 in 1967.)

These six ships were among ten Air Force Atlantic Missile Range ships reassigned from the Air Force to MSTS by the Secretary of Defense on 16 November 1963 and directed on 1 May 1964 to be instated or reinstated in the Naval Vessel Register (NVR) as T-AGM 9 to T-AGM 18 effective the first day of the month following the date of their acceptance by the Navy. Five of them (including COASTAL CRUSADER, whose acquisition as USS WEXFORD, AK 220, had been cancelled on 27 August 1945) had not previously been on the NVR and were instated in the NVR on 1 July 1964. The sixth, COASTAL SENTRY, had briefly been in the NVR in 1945 (although apparently not commissioned) as USS SOMERSET (AK 212) and was reinstated in it on 1 July 1964 under her original mercantile name, COASTAL SENTRY.

In March 1966 ROSE KNOT provided the data, command control, and communications support for the first docking of two vehicles in space, Gemini 8 with astronauts Neil Armstrong and David Scott and their Agena target. In around 1965 two other Eastern Test Range C1-M-AV1's, COASTAL CRUSADER and SWORD KNOT, gained new state-of-the-art telemetry and communications systems to track unmanned projects, particularly deep space probes. They provided valuable data coverage on the Pioneer solar orbiting flights (1965-68), the Lunar Orbiter moon-photographing missions (1966), and the Surveyor lunar soft-landing shots (1966-68). Their smokestacks were raised in September 1965 to clear stack gases after the ships received a single large air-inflated radome over the bridge and an additional deckhouse forward of it. The radome contained a telemetry system directional receiving antenna.

The Air Force commercial manning arrangements for these ships lasted until MARAD was directed as of January 1968, despite opposition from Congressional supporters of the merchant marine including L. Mendell Rivers, to man all range instrumentation ships with civil service personnel. AGM 14-15 and 17-18 were not affected as they were scheduled for deactivation, On 16 November 1967 MSTS reported to CNO that the Air Force Missile Test Center in Florida had advised that it wanted to phase out several small range instrumentation ships. This reduction in capability would be offset by the placement in service of the three new APOLLO ships (T-AGM 19-21), while the ability of the Test Center to meet its obligations within funding limitations would also be improved. The process began with the release of TIMBER HITCH to the NDRF, which MARAD approved on 8 December 1967. SWORD KNOT was transferred to the Air Force Western Test Range at Vandenburg AFB, California on 20 Feb 1968. This was followed by the planned release to the NDRF of ROSE KNOT in February and SAMPAN HITCH in May 1968, which MARAD accepted on 23 February 1968. COASTAL SENTRY, then located in Australia, became surplus to requirements in April 1968. MSTS stated that with three ships of this type already in the NDRF no useful purpose would be served by returning COASTAL SENTRY to the US and that she should be offered for scrap sale in Australia. MARAD responded that it expected the Invitation for Bids to be issued around 21 May 1968 with an award four weeks later. The two remaining ships, SWORD KNOT (AGM 13) and COASTAL CRUSADER (AGM 16), were to change crews in March-April 1968.

On 14 August 1969 the Oceanographer of the Navy (OCEANAV), then engaged in Vietnam era cost-cutting measures (see the AGOR 3 and AGS 25 classes), recommended MSTS proceed with plans to replace SGT CURTIS F SHOUP (T-AG 175), then conducting gravity, magnetic and bathymetric surveys, with COASTAL CRUSADER (T-AGM 16) as soon as possible in view of significant cost savings involved. OCENANAV wanted to minimize overlap time and have COASTAL CRUSADER operational by February 1970. Although OCEANAV no longer planned to use COASTAL CRUSADER for project CAESAR (SOSUS) surveys as proposed in August 1969, scientific facilities were still required for her use as the SHOUP replacement. In the 14 August 1969 message OCEANAV requested CNO concurrence for the ship switch and the reclassification of COASTAL CRUSADER instead of SHOUP to T-AGS 36. COASTAL CRUSADER was duly reclassified, but the plans to convert her to a surveying ship quickly fell through and she joined the NDRF in February 1970. SWORD KNOT at Vandenburg AFB was declared excess to Navy requirements in April 1971.

Ship Notes:
13SWORD KNOT2466(Ex SWORD KNOT, compl. 30 May 1945) To USAF 14 Mar 1957 as SWORD KNOT, E-45-1852. Transferred to the Air Force Western Test Range 20 Feb 1968. To MA custody 7 Apr 1971 at Suisun Bay, permanent (title) transfer date missing. To buyer 22 Jun 1973.
14ROSE KNOT2335(Ex ROSE KNOT, compl. 5 May 1945) To USAF 1 Apr 1957 as ROSE KNOT, E-45-1850 (ORV 1850). Deactivated 2 Mar 1968. To MA custody 26 Mar 1968. To buyer 4 Aug 1977 for non-transportation use, reportedly sunk by the Navy during a training exercise at Point Mugu, sold for scrapping 1987.
15COASTAL SENTRY2166(Ex COASTAL SENTRY, ex USS SOMERSET, AK 212, 1945, compl. 2 Nov 1945) Army COASTAL SENTRY 30 Aug 1946 to 12 Dec 1949. To USAF 29 Mar 1957 as COASTAL SENTRY, E-45-1849. Deactivated 12 May 1968. Sale awarded 20 Jun 1968, title to MA and delivered to buyer 11 Jul 1968 at Fremantle, Australia. Burned while awaiting scrapping.
16COASTAL CRUSADER2174(Ex COASTAL CRUSADER, ex USS WEXFORD, AK 220, 1945, compl. 31 Dec 1945) Army PVT JOE R HASTINGS 30 Aug 1946 to 12 Dec 1949. To USAF 13 Mar 1957 as COASTAL CRUSADER, E-45-1851 (ORV 1851). Deactivated 12 Sep 1969. On 2 September 1969 effective 1 December 1969 COASTAL CRUSADER (T-AGM 16) was reclassified to T-AGS 36 in place of SGT CURTIS F SHOUP (T-AG 175). The conversion was soon cancelled, and on 19 Dec 1969 CNO informed MARAD that COASTAL CRUSADER was excess to Navy requirements and asked that MARAD retain her in the NDRF. To MA custody 9 Feb 1970. To buyer 2 May 1977.
17TIMBER HITCH2315(Ex TIMBER HITCH, compl. 19 Jan 1945) To USAF (title) 2 Apr 1957 as TIMBER HITCH, E-45-1848. Transferred to the Pacific in November 1961 to support the Mercury program, returned to the Eastern Range on 7 May 1965 and withdrawn, deactivated 10 Jan 1968. To MA custody 5 Feb 1968, permanent (title) transfer 25 Oct 1968. To buyer 21 Oct 1977.
18SAMPAN HITCH2133(Ex SAMPAN HITCH, compl. 5 Nov 1945) To USAF 16 Oct 1958 as SAMPAN HITCH, E-45-1861. To MA (permanent) 25 Jun 1968. To buyer 24 May 1973.

Page Notes:
Compiled: 18 Oct 2021
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2021
Special sources: https://afspacemuseum.org/facilities/support-ships-on-the-eastern-range/ and https://www.smithsonianmag.com/air-space-magazine/the-rocket-ships-2982678/