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USNS Rose Knot (T-AGM 14) on 28 July 1965.

USNS Rose Knot (T-AGM 14) on 28 July 1965.
Click on this photograph for links to larger images of this class.

Class: SWORD KNOT (T-AGM 13)
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 1945COM/SRV
14ROSE KNOT1 Jul 1964Pennsylvania SY13 Oct 19446 Dec 1944COM/SRV
15COASTAL SENTRY1 Jul 1964Leathem D Smith SB9 Oct 194421 Jan 1945COM/SRV
16COASTAL CRUSADER1 Jul 1964Leathem D Smith SB12 Apr 194524 Jun 1945COM/SRV
17TIMBER HITCH1 Jul 1964Consolidated Steel, Long B.26 Aug 194412 Oct 1944COM/SRV
18SAMPAN HITCH1 Jul 1964Walter Butler SB, Superior16 Jan 194512 Jul 1945COM/SRV

AGMNameTDecomm/CustStrikeDisposalFateMA Sale/Depart
13SWORD KNOTT19711 Apr 1971DISPMA15 May 1973
14ROSE KNOTT19689 Oct 196928 Oct 1968MA28 Jun 1977
15COASTAL SENTRYT19689 Oct 196920 Jun 1968MA/S--
16COASTAL CRUSADERT197130 Apr 197612 Apr 1977MA/S--
17TIMBER HITCHT19689 Oct 196925 Oct 1968MA27 Jul 1977
18SAMPAN HITCHT19689 Oct 196925 Jun 1968MA23 Apr 1973

Class Notes:
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. 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.

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 on 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. In March 1959 COASTAL CRUSADER recovered a Thor-Able missile data capsule, on 21 July 1959 COASTAL SENTRY recovered an Atlas nose cone, and 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. With two large telemetry antennas on their masts they supported the early unmanned Apollo missions beginning in 1961 but their participation ended before Apollo 6 in 1968. The smokestacks of SWORD KNOT and COASTAL CRUSADER were raised in September 1965 to clear stack gases after the ships received a single large balloon radome over the bridge and an additional deckhouse forward of it, probably for the Surveyor lunar missions that began in May 1966. 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 to be affected as they were scheduled for deactivation, SWORD KNOT (AGM 13) would change crews in March 1968, and COASTAL CRUSADER (AGM 16) would change in April 1968.

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 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 (she was declared excess to Navy requirements in April 1971). 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.

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.

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. 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
Sources: https://afspacemuseum.org/facilities/support-ships-on-the-eastern-range/ and https://www.smithsonianmag.com/air-space-magazine/the-rocket-ships-2982678/