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USNS James M Gilliss (T-AGOR 4) on 14 Dec 1962.

USNS James M Gilliss (T-AGOR 4) on 14 Dec 1962.
Click on this photograph for links to larger images of this class.

Design: SCB Project No. 185
Displacement (tons): 1,200 light, 1,370 full (1,362 for AGOR 6-7)
Dimensions (feet): 209' oa, 196' wl x 40' e, 37' wl x 16' max nav, 15' lim
Armament: none
Accommodations: 9 officers, 17 unlicensed, 15 scientists
Speed (kts.): 13
Propulsion (HP): 1,200 (1,330 for AGOR 6-7)
Machinery: Diesel electric, 1 screw

3ROBERT D CONRAD26 May 1960Gibbs, Jacksonville19 Jan 196126 May 196229 Nov 1962
4JAMES M GILLISS29 Nov 1960Christy31 May 196119 May 19625 Nov 1962
5CHARLES H DAVIS29 Nov 1960Christy15 Jun 196130 Jun 196225 Jan 1963
6SANDS13 Dec 1961Marietta Mfg., Pt. Pleasant, WVa.23 Aug 196214 Sep 196313 Nov 1964
7LYNCH13 Dec 1961Marietta Mfg., Pt. Pleasant, WVa.7 Sep 196217 Mar 196427 Mar 1965

AGORNameTDecomm/CustStrikeDisposalFateMA Sale/Depart
3ROBERT D CONRAD26 Jul 19894 Oct 19891 May 1999MA/TNov 2003
4JAMES M GILLISST19701996?15 Jun 1983Trf--
5CHARLES H DAVIST197016 Oct 199710 Aug 1970Trf--
6SANDSTApr 197325 May 19901 Jul 1974Trf--
7LYNCHT24 Sep 19916 Nov 199123 Dec 1994MA/T4 Jun 2001

Class Notes:
On 31 July 1957 the DCNO for Fleet Operations, Readines, and R&D wrote to VCNO that an oceanographic research ship to replace a ship then being operated by Woods Hole or the Scripps Institute had been tentatively carried in the FY 1959 Shipbuilding and Conversion Program for some time. It had been placed in the program as a result of a NOBSKA (Committee on Underwater Warfare, see also AG 154) recommendation. A rise in cost estimates for this ship led to a re-evaluation of keeping it in the program, and the writer concluded that, although the need for the ship was recognized, it would be better to try to have a private fund like the Rockefeller or Ford Foundation finance it. By 8 August 1957 it had been deleted from the program. Woods Hole with M. Rosenblatt and Son, Inc., as their design agent subsequently completed a study in 1959 of a series of preliminary designs for research ships ranging from 400 to 3,000 tons and in 1963 took delivery of the 2,100 ton ATLANTIS II.

According to a memo on the SCB 226 design (see the T-AGS 26 class) dated 28 August 1961 and prepared in the Preliminary Design section of BUSHIPS for the Assistant SECNAV (R&D), in 1953 Rear Admiral Charles D. Wheelock, a former ship designer in BUSHIPS and later an associate director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, chaired a committee of the various entities interested in oceanographic ships and established the first coordinated statement of requirements for them. The committee recommended a maximum ship size of 1,000 tons in light of all compromises between functions, the need for low first cost, and subsequent operating costs. These deliberations formed the basis for the characteristics and design of the AGOR-3 class which came out at 1,400 tons. Approved characteristics for an Oceanographic Research Ship (AGS), SCB Project No. 185, were promulgated on 25 April 1958 and updated on 30 July 1959 with a final change on 1 August 1962. The large stack contained a small diesel exhaust funnel and a small 620 shp gas turbine engine that provided "quiet" power for speeds up to 6.5 knots during experiments in which the main propulsion diesel would be too noisy. A bow propeller pod could propel the ship at up to 4.5 knots in addition to providing precise maneuvering. Two of these small, single-screw AGOR's were included in the Navy's FY 1960 program.

ROBERT D CONRAD became the first of several ships operated in the 1960s and 1970s by academic institutions as part of the National Academic Research Fleet and the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), others being THOMAS G THOMPSON (T-AGOR 9), THOMAS WASHINGTON (T-AGOR 10), MELVILLE (AGOR 14), and KNORR (AGOR 15). ROBERT D CONRAD collected gravity and magnetics data on the seafloor, created seismic images of rock layers below the ocean floor, dredged rock samples, took ocean-floor sediment cores, mapped the ocean floor with sonar, and collected water samples to explore ocean currents, temperature, salinity, marine life and other data for a wide range of oceanographic research. Her data supported the early definition of seafloor spreading. As part of the national academic research fleet she was commonly referred to as a research vessel (R/V), not a U.S. Naval Ship (USNS). Of her sisters, JAMES M GILLISS was operated by MSTS in the Naval Oceanographic Office's Navy Lab East Coast Pool serving various Navy laboratories and projects in the Atlantic, and CHARLES H DAVIS was similarly operated by MSTS in NAVOCEANO's Navy Lab West Coast Pool.

SANDS and LYNCH (T-AGOR 6-7) were essentially repeats of the AGOR 3 class (still SCB 185) in which the front end of the stack was cut down but the mast remained free-standing in its original position. KELLAR (AGS 25) was a variant of the AGOR 6 type. T-AGOR 6-7 were ordered on 13 December 1961 from the Marietta Manufacturing Co. of Point Pleasant, W. Va., which also won the contract for KELLAR a month later. This yard, located on the Ohio River, had built over 800 small vessels since 1920, mostly barges but also a class of Army mine planters during World War II. KELLAR experienced many problems during construction resulting in her being moved after launching to New Orleans for completion at another yard, where she was sunk during Hurricane Betsy. SANDS was completed by Marietta at Point Pleasant, but LYNCH was towed to New Orleans on 4 Apr 1965 for completion and trials, with the Navy accepting custody of the ship there from Marietta on 23 July 1965. Unlike the unfortunate KELLAR, LYNCH successfully rode out Hurricane Betsy at New Orleans on 9-10 September 1965 and was delivered to MSTS by the Commander of the Eighth Naval District on 22 October 1965. SANDS and LYNCH were both operated by MSTS in the Naval Oceanographic Office's Navy Lab East Coast Pool. LYNCH was mother ship in 1966 for the SPAR (Seagoing Platform for Acoustic Research), a long cylindrical floating device that in vertical operating position supported instrumentation 300 feet below the surface and was used in 1984 by the Lamont–Doherty Geological Observatory in a marginal ice zone experiment under a contract with the Office of Naval Research. She was still tending the SPAR in 1990.

In retrospect the 2,100-ton ATLANTIS II proved to be a more viable research platform than the 1,370-ton AGOR 3 class. ATLANTIS II had more effective maneuverability with her combination of twin screws and bow thruster than did the AGOR 3 type with a single screw and bow thruster (to which AGOR 12-13 added an active rudder). ATLANTIS II's accommodation for 25 scientists and labratory space of about 2,500 square feet was almost double that of the AGOR 3 class. ATLANTIS II also had an internal well, bow observation chamber, a stern ramp, and an aloft observation tower (enclosed crow's nest) like the one that appeared in the AGOR 14 class.

In September 1969 three 208-ft oceanographic hulls, T-AGOR 4-5 and T-AGS 31, were selected by the Oceanographer of the Navy for deactivation and layup by MA as part of an AGOR cutback program. T-AGOR 5 was loaned to New Zealand on 10 August 1970 and T-AGOR 4 was transferred on 22 November 1970 to the University of Miami for further operation from Port Everglades, Fla.

Ship Notes:
3ROBERT D CONRADFY 1960. Operated by the Lamont Geological Observatory, Columbia University (renamed the Lamont–Doherty Geological Observatory in 1969). Replaced by MAURICE EWING, ex BERNIER (built 1983) and to MA custody 26 Jul 1989. Sale not reported, moved to Chesapeake, VA, Nov 2003, BU completed 27 Apr 2004.
4JAMES M GILLISSFY 1960. Scheduled for layup 1969, operated from 1970 by the University of Miami replacing its R/V PILLSBURY. Replaced by a new National Science Foundation ship (probably CAPE FLORIDA, later POINT SUR) and to MA custody 18 Mar 1980. From MA 14 Jun 1983 and to Mexico as ALTAIR (BI 03). Sold to Mexico 4 Dec 1996. Based at Veracruz 2022.
5CHARLES H DAVISFY 1961. Scheduled for layup 1969, loaned to New Zealand 1970 as TUI. Struck 1997 for BU overseas. Returned to the USN 27 Aug 1998, scuttled 20 Feb 1999 off Tutukaka, New Zealand as a fish reef.
6SANDSFY 1962. Out of service in reserve April 1973. Loaned to Brazil 1974 as ALMIRANTE CAMARA. Sold to Brazil 5 Dec 1990 at end of lease. Decommissioned by Brazil 7 Aug 2003 at Rio de Janeiro and sold at auction in 2004.
7LYNCHFY 1962. Named and classified 10 Jan 1963. To MA custody in JRRF 21 Oct 1991. Departed JRRF for Brownsville Aug 2001. BU completed 29 Nov 2001.

Page Notes:
Compiled: 19 Oct 2021
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2021
Special sources: Stewart B. Nelson, Oceanographic Ships Fore and Aft, published by NAVOCEANO in 1971 and reprinted in 1982.