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USS Altair (AKS 32) ca. 1962.

USS Altair (AKS 32) ca. 1962.
Click on this photograph for links to larger images of this class.

Class: ALTAIR (AKS 32, VC2-S-AP3)
Design: SCB Project No. 49, conversion of MC VC2-S-AP3
Displacement (tons): 4,960 light, 10,440 full
Dimensions (feet): 455' oa, 437' pp x 62' e/wl x 23' max nav
Armament: (both: 1952) 4-40mmT; (both: 1963) 2-40mmT
Accommodations: 22 officers, 228 enlisted
Speed (kts.): 17
Propulsion (HP): 8,500
Machinery: Geared steam turbines, 2 boilers (440psi/740deg), 1 screw

32ALTAIR12 Aug 1952Oregon SB20 Apr 194430 May 194415 Dec 1953
33ANTARES1 Apr 1959Oregon SB6 Apr 194419 May 1944(Feb 1960)

AKSNameTDecommStrikeDisposalFateMA Sale/Depart
32ALTAIR2 May 19691 Jun 19731 Sep 1971MA14 Nov 1974
33ANTARES18 Dec 19641 Sep 19651 Sep 1965MA5 Apr 1974

Class Notes:
An AKS conversion (SCB Project No. 49) was included in the First Supplemental FY 1951 Shipbuilding and Conversion Program along with an AOR (SCB 50) and an AF (SCB 57) conversion. On 4 October 1950 BUSHIPS recommended that MERCURY (AKS 20), a C2 cargo ship initially converted to an AKS in 1945, be selected for the FY 1951 AKS conversion, which was to be completed at NSY Boston on 1 Dec 1951. On 27 October 1950 CNO approved and forwarded by letter the military characteristics for all three conversions as recommended by the Ship Characteristics Board. The AKS characteristics contemplated conversion from an existing AKS hull (presumably AKS 20). On 6 December 1950, however, CNO informed BUSHIPS that no firm coummitment as to the ship to be converted could be made due to operational requirements, although it was still intended to use an existing AKS hull. (At the same time CNO told BUSHIPS that WACCAMAW had been designated as the AOR and SS MATCHLESS as the AF.) On 11 January 1951 CNO informed BUSHIPS that no existing AKS hull could be made available for the conversion and asked the Bureau to examine the feasibilility of converting an available Maritime Administration hull. The Bureau therefore ceased work on the AKS 20 conversion, and on 13 February 1951 it recommended that a Victory ship (VC2-S-AP3) be used and began modifying the SCB 49 parameters for it. Also on 13 February 1951 the designation AKS 21 was appproved for use on contract and guidance plans for the ship. However CNO, ignoring the Victory ship option, stated again on 23 February 1951 that, although an existing AKS hull was not at present available it was hoped that eventually one would become available. On 11 April 1951 BUSHIPS told CNO that in view of differences in arrangements and dimensions between the three existing AKS hulls it was unable to continue with the contract design until a basic hull was selected. The three existing hulls were CASTOR (AKS 1) and POLLUX (AKS 4) in the Pacific and MERCURY (AKS 20) in the Atlatnic.

In May 1951 one extra Victory AK from the Maritime Reserve Fleet was included in the planned ship activations for FY 1952 in order to free up MERCURY for conversion, and on 26 September 1951 CNO designated MERCURY as the ship to receive the conversion, which was to commence about two months after the last of the four Victory AK's (AK 257-260) reported to the Atlantic Fleet. BUSHIPS briefly resumed work on the AKS 20 (MERCURY) version of SCB 49 in September 1951 but on 16 November 1951 CNO requested orally that BUSHIPS investigate the feasibility of accomplishing the AKS conversion from one of the AK 257 class ships, achieving AKS features paralleling those required by SCB Project 49 for the MERCURY conversion. Upon study the cost of this conversion was found to be double the funding requested in the FY 1953 program, and BUSHIPS then decided that in lieu of a conversion meeting all the requirements of Project 49 the design should be based on converting an existing AK 257 class ship with all of the features in the present MERCURY. On 4 March 1952 CNO forwarded to BUSHIPS a list of modifications to the approved characteristics of Project No. 49, the result being Project No. 49 (modified), and designated ALTAIR (AK 257) as the ship to be converted. CNO promulgated modifications to Project 49 on 4 March 1952, and a design agent contract was signed with Maryland Drydock Co., Baltimore, Md., on 17 April 1952. Design data for a limited conversion of ALTAIR to a General Stores Issue Ship (AKS) were issued on 18 April 1952. On 12 August 1952 ALTAIR was given a new classification, AKS 32. Approved characteristics for an AKS conversion, SCB Project No. 49 (modified), were promulgated on 29 Oct 1952 with a single change on 26 July 1954.

Approved characteristics for a Technical Stores Issue Ship (AKST), SCB Project 81, were promulgated on 26 November 1952 with a single change on 26 July 1954 but this project was not proceeded with. This project may have been for proposed replacements for the AKS 27-type LST conversions and may have been merged into the proposed new construction AKS (SCB Project 115) below.

Work on a design for a new construction AF (AF 58, SCB Project 97, later RIGEL class) began in February 1952, and the Navy Shipbuilding Program also included a new AE (SCB 114, later SURIBACHI class) and a new AKS (SCB 115, ultimately not built). In May 1952 it was decided to base the original design for these three types of replenishment ships on Navy rather than commercial requirements and thus obtain the most favorable spacing of decks and sheer and camber. It was decided that they would use substantially the same hull, machinery, and design policies. The objective was to develop a related group of ships built to commercial specifications and standardized as far as practicable for economy in building. They were probably all to be 20-knot ships. On 19 May 1952 a Conference on Mobile Logistic Support recommended that four types of ships should be equipped for replenishment at sea: an oiler (AO), an ammunition ship (AE), a refrigerated stores ship (AF), and a general stores issue ship (AKS), the latter to carry technical and aviation spares in addition to general stores. Work on the AE design (AE 21) began in July 1952, and approved characteristics for a new construction stores issue ship (AKS), SCB Project No. 115, were promulgated on 22 December 1952 with a final change on 25 September 1957. The changes made to the designs of the AF and AE between 1952 and 1954 precluded attaining the original objective of establishing a basic hull type, but it was hoped in 1954 that the third type of this series, the AKS (SCB 115), would become the prototype for future replenishment ships. It was to have the same stern lines as the AE 21 design and have five holds instead of six but was to revert to transverse framing. The Navy wanted to use diesel electric propulsion instead of steam, with seven main diesel generating sets in one engine room. (The engines were to be similar to those in the LST 1171 design. An alternate diesel powered design for AF 58 had been prepared in June 1952 to January 1953 but not used.) Two ships to SCB Project No. 115 (cut to one in around December 1954 to reduce program costs) were included in the draft building program for FY 1956. Negotiations were opened with Bethlehem Steel Co. who were building AE 21-22 to act as design agent, but they could not complete the plans in a timely manner and the design contract went instead in March 1955 to Gibbs & Cox with completion due on 30 September 1955. However in mid-1955 the one AKS left in the 1956 program (AKS 33) along with a fourth diesel submarine (BARBEL class) were deleted to provide funds for a fourth SSN (probably SKATE class), which ultimately was also not authorized.

On 17 December "1959" (1958?) CNO, approving recommendations from COMSERVLANT, cancelled the overhaul of MERCURY (which was to be inactivated and preserved in accordance with MARAD standards) and ordered that the Victory AK ANTARES (AK 258) be overhauled and improved to achieve the interim AKS capabilities then existing in MERCURY using funds previously programmed for the MERCURY and ANTARES overhauls. ANTARES was to be reclassified as AKS upon completion of overhaul. On 25 March 1959 ANTARES was reclassified to AKS 33 effective 1 April 1959.

In 1959 ALTAIR received a helicopter landing platform on her stern and also received a complete material handling system which included new elevators, forklifts, trucks, conveyor belts, plus the first electronic material accounting system to be placed on board a ship. These features were presumably included in the contemporary conversion of ANTARES. In 1961 ANTARES was given an additional mission of resupplying the fleet ballistic missile submarine base at Holy Loch, Scotland, and she received additional modifications for this purpose in October and November 1961 at the Norfolk and Charleston (SC) Naval Shipyards.

Ship Notes:
32ALTAIR110Ex merc. ABERDEEN VICTORY, completed 22 Jun 1944. Name and hull number AK 257 assigned 26 Jul 1951. Made one Mediterranean deployment as an AK. To AKS 32 12 Aug 1952. Out of commission at Maryland DD, Baltimore, for conversion 5 Jan to 15 Dec 1953. Title from MA to Navy 31 May 1956. To MA custody (JRRF) 21 May 1969, permanent transfer (title) 1 Sep 1971, sold 14 Nov 1974, to buyer 31 Jan 1975, towed to Baltimore to BU.
33ANTARES107Ex merc. NAMPA VICTORY, completed 10 Jun 1944. Name and hull number AK 258 assigned 26 Jul 1951. Title from MA to Navy 31 May 1956. To AKS 33 1 Apr 1959. Remained in commission during conversion, completed Feb 1960. To MA custody 30 Mar 1965, permanent transfer 1 Sep 1965. Sold 5 Apr 1974, to buyer 31 May 1974.

Page Notes:
Compiled: 14 Aug 2021
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2021
Sources: NARA RG19 Item S-13 Entry 1022-T(UD), RG428 FS/A1-1, RG19 Gen Corresp 1956 SBG PGM (Shipbuilding Program)