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USS Altair (AKS 32) ca. 1962.

USS Altair (AKS 32) ca. 1959-62.
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
32ALTAIR2 May 19691 Jun 19731 Sep 1971MA/T14 Nov 1974
33ANTARES18 Dec 19641 Sep 19651 Sep 1965MA/T5 Apr 1974

Class Notes:
AKS 32 and AKS 33 entered Navy service in 1951 as commissioned cargo ships of the ALCOR (AK 259) class, and their history before their AKS conversions is described on the page for that class. They were Victory ships of the VC2-S-AP3 type and served as cargo ships until 1952 (ALTAIR, AK 257) and 1959 (ANTARES, AK 258).

The conversion of ALTAIR originated in a proposed AKS conversion (SCB Project No. 49) that 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, a more extensive one that was to be completed at NSY Boston on 1 December 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 specified conversion from an existing AKS hull (presumably AKS 20). On 6 December 1950, however, CNO informed BUSHIPS that no firm commitment 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, AO 109, had been designated as the AOR and the C2 freighter 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 Victory 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, all variants of the C2 type, were CASTOR (AKS 1) and POLLUX (AKS 4) in the Pacific and MERCURY (AKS 20) in the Atlantic.

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 in a Victory ship 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 without the planned enhancements. 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 on 17 April 1952 a contract was signed with Maryland Drydock Co., Baltimore, Md., to act as design agent. 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. (The numbers AKS 21-31 were used to reclassify other ships in 1949 and 1951.) 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. ALTAIR entered service as an AKS on 15 Dec 1953.

In the meantime, a letter directive dated 22 December 1950 promulgated characteristics for a Technical Stores Issue Ship (AKST) for handling engineering spare parts and stores. She was to be a new construction ship based on a C2 type hull similar to AKS 20. This directive was replaced by approved characteristics for an AKST, SCB Project 81, that were promulgated on 26 November 1952 with a single change on 26 July 1954. In 1950 or 1951 SCB Project 44 was also developed for a new construction Aviation Supply Ship (AVS). On 13 February 1951 the Director of Fleet Operations (Op-33) recommended including in the FY 1953 program two new construction new design fast AVS capable of repleninshment at sea. On 2 March 1951 Op-55 explained that the new AVS, which was advocated by BUSANDA, would be designed to furnish mobile areonautical material replenishment at sea services similar to fleet oiler services and that it should have the speed necessary to stay with the logistic train. It was to be designed to carry large and bulky items such as aircraft wings and tail sections. Draft requirements circulated on 22 March 1951 included two types of AVS, a new construction prototype 25-knot replenishment ship that was to have a helicopter platform in order to expedite deliveries of critical items to aircraft carriers within a fast carrier task force and a new construction prototype 17-knot point-to-point ship that was also to be capable of undeway replenishment. Both of these ships were deleted by DCNO (Logistics) from the proposed FY 1953 program in May 1951.

On 3 October 1951 two "new fast AVS capable of replenishing at sea" appeared in an early listing of the FY 1954 program with 4 AF (SCB 97) and 6 AO (SCB 82). By 1 May 1952 these had become 4 AE (SCB 114), 2 AF (SCB 97), 2 AKS (SCB 115), and 4 AO (SCB 82) all new construction. Projects 114 and 115 were to use the hull being developed for Project 97, which measured 500.0' oa x 72.0, as a prototype for all three types. Because of different loadouts and configurations the AF drew 26.5' for a full load displacement of 15,660 tons while the AKS was rated at 26.0' for 15,600 tons and the AE was expected to draw 29.0' for 16 to 17,000 tons. All three designs had a trial speed of 20 knots,an endurance of 10,000 miles at 18.5 knots, four 3"/50 twin mounts, and crews of 20 officers and 300 men. The AE and AF were to have no aviation facilities but the AKS was to have facilities for the operation and maintenance of one helicopter. The AKS was to have about 425,000 cubic feet of cargo space instead of the 350,000 cubic feet of refrigerated cargo space in the AF. The four Project 82 AOs were to follow two in the FY 1953 program and the original six in FY 1952. One AKS was dropped from the program before 25 August 1952, and by May 1953 after a big funding cut only two auxiliaries, both AEs, were left in the FY 1954 program. On 25 March 1952 DCNO (Ops) asked that the AKS and AVS types be merged since the main difference between them was loading and added that the AKS could also be an AKST.

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 (replacing the AKST and AVS types) in addition to general stores. The objective was to develop a related group of ships built to commercial specifications and standardized as far as practicable for economy in building. Work on the new AF design (AF 58, SCB Project 97) had already begun in February 1952, work on the AE design (AE 21, Project 114) 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 during the development of the designs of Projects 97 and 114 precluded attaining the original objective of establishing a basic hull type for new replenishment ships, and it was hoped in 1954 that the third type of this series, the Project 115 AKS, would become the prototype for future replenishment ships since there was no material already procured or plans already prepared that would limit its design. 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 as in the AF. The Navy wanted to use diesel electric propulsion for the AKS 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.) As of 16 March 1954 the contract design for a new construction AKS for FY 1956 was due within BUSHIPS on 1 March 1955. On 24 June 1954 BUSHIPS and BUORD provided cost estimates for the proposed FY 1956 program (approved by SECNAV on 27 September 1954) that included two Project 115 AKSs. As of 19 October 1954 the preparation of the working plans had been awarded to Bethlehem, Quincy. On 13 December 1954 the Assistant CNO for Fleet Operations and Readiness recommended deleting one of the two AKSs to help get down to a funding cap. The FY 1956 program forwarded by CNO to SECNAV on 11 January 1955 and approved by him on 19 January 1955 included one Project 115 AKS. As of 25 January 1955 BUSHIPS planned to farm out the production of contract plans for Project 115 for completion by 15 July 1955. 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. As of 1 March 1955 one Project No. 115 ship was still included in the draft building program for FY 1956. However on 8 June 1955 CNO reported to SECNAV that on 19 May 1955 he had told BUSHIPS that he wanted to change one of the four Project 124 (GROWLER class) diesel attack submarines in the approved FY 1956 program to a third Project 121 (SKATE class) nuclear attack submarine and that BUSHIPS had replied that the necessary funds could be obtained by deleting the AKS, which was done. Following initial trials with ALBACORE (AGSS 569) CNO on 22 September 1955 changed the characteristics of one of the three SSNs then planned for FY 1956 from Project 121 to Project 154 (SKIPJACK class), and on 25 November 1955 he changed the three remaining FY 1956 Project 124 diesel submarines to Project 150 (BARBEL class). On 20 October 1958 the SCB requested BUSHIPS to initiate a design study for a new type of store ship, the AFS (q.v.), which combined the features of the AF, AKS, and AVS into one hull.

On 17 December "1959" (probably a typo for 1958) CNO, approving recommendations from COMSERVLANT, cancelled the overhaul of MERCURY (still serving in her World War II AKS configuration), directing that she 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 AKS and ANTARES AK 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 and she entered service as such in February 1960.

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, and the first electronic material accounting system to be placed on board a ship. ANTARES underwent an overhaul at the same time, although she still lacked a helicopter deck in 1964. 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. Unlike ALCOR and BETELGEUSE (AK 259-260), modified in 1960 for the same purpose, she probably did not carry Polaris missiles

Ship Notes:
32ALTAIR110Ex ALTAIR (AK 257), ex merc. ABERDEEN VICTORY, completed 22 Jun 1944. To ALTAIR (AKS 32) 12 Aug 1952. Out of commission at Maryland DD, Baltimore, for conversion 5 Jan to 15 Dec 1953 under FY 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 ANTARES (AK 258), ex merc. NAMPA VICTORY, completed 10 Jun 1944. To ANTARES (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
Special sources: NARA: RG 19 Entry UD 1024-A Box 1 (AKS 20, SCB 49), RG 19 Entry P 62 Box 9, RG 19 BUSHIPS General Corresp 1953-57 File 1956 SBG PGM (Shipbuilding Program), RG428 (Dept of the Navy) File FS/A1-1.