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USS Conecuh (AOR 110) as a replenishment oiler.
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Class: CONECUH (AO 110)
Design: SCB Project No. 50, AOR conversion, applied to German Dithmarschen
Displacement (tons): 8,820 light, 22,780 full
Dimensions (feet): 584' oa, 551' wl x 72' e, 73' wl (sic) x 31' max nav
Armament: (1955) 2-40mmQ
Accommodations: 18 officers, 266 enlisted
Speed (kts.): 20
Propulsion (HP): 22,000
Machinery: Geared Schichau steam turbines, 2 Wagner boilers (662psi/815deg), 2 screws
|110||CONECUH||15 Jan 1946||F. Schichau, Danzig||--||12 Jun 1937||2 May 1946|
|110||CONECUH||4 Apr 1956/C||1 Jun 1960||23 Nov 1960||MA/S||--|
On 15 January 1946 the German troßschiff
(supply ship) DITHMARSCHEN was delivered to the US Naval Advanced Base, Weser, Germany, by a German maintenance crew as part of the US allocation by the Allied Control Council of ex-German warships. Repairs and overhaul had been completed at Hamburg by German workers under US and British supervision before her arrival and the available spare parts had been divided with the British, to whom her sister ship NORDMARK (later HMS BULAWAYO) had been allocated. The Weser base had reported on 21 November 1945 that she was ideally suitable for service as a fleet tanker but was not suitable for commercial use, with the War Shipping Administration showing no interest in her. On 8 April 1946 the Weser base asked CNO for instructions on her disposition given that USS EUROPA (AP 177) had just arrived there for decommissioning and delivery to the French. On 11 April 1946 CNO directed that the commanding officer of EUROPA be designated officer in charge of DITHMARSCHEN, that necessry officers and enlisted personnel from EUROPA be transferred to the tanker, and that DITHMARSCHEN be placed in service without change of name and classified IX 301. After ten days for training the ship was to proceed to Philadelphia and report there for tests as designated by BUSHIPS and for further disposition as directed by CNO. DITHMARSCHEN (IX 301)was placed in service on 2 May 1946, EUROPA being decommissioned at the same time. DITHMARSCHEN arrived at Philadelphia on 19 May 1946 after the transit from Germany and a day of trials off the Delaware Capes.
On 21 June 1946 the DCNO for Logistics requested that DITHMARSCHEN be converted for experimental duty in connection with the delivery of passengers, mail, certain types of ammunition, general and providion stores, and fuel to fleet vessels while at sea. On 27 June 1946 CNO authorized the conversion of the ship to a prototype "Tanker - Supply ship" and specified a list of 15 conversion items including upgrading the berthing, messing, and sanitary facilities and distilling plant to Amerian standards and fitting US types of replenishment at sea gear. On 6 August 1946 BUSHIPS forwarded to CNO a list of the proposed installations on the ship which CNO approved on 13 August 1946. On completion (estimated for 15 January 1947) she was to be commissioned with a crew to be obtained by disposal of one AO. However at this time an internal BUSHIPS memo pointed out that the conversion list was extensive and expensive, given that the German ship lacked features essential to USN ships (it had practically no berthing and messing facilities for the enlisted crew) while the conversion would essentially bring the ship to approximate equality with tankers now in USN service plus stores replenishment facilities. In a letter to CNO of 23 August 1946 BUSHIPS maintained its support for the experimental use of the ship but recommended minimizing the scope of the conversion to limit costs and because it felt that even with a more extensive conversion the vessel with its many foreign features would not prove acceptable as a permanent addition to the fleet. (Converting one of the higher speed US Navy tankers would be a more logical approach.) CINCLANT maintained its support for the full conversion by arguing for the early development of a ship capable of providing one-stop service to fleet units at sea and with increased rates of delivery of fuel and supplies underway. However COMSERVPAC on 28 August 1946 argued that the present facilities and procedures for underway transfer had been developed during the war in a piecemeal manner and that the time had come to develop new equipment after a thorough study of present and probable future requirements. This process should be completed before undertaking any conversion. On 30 August 1946 CNO approved the name CONECUH and classification AO 110 for the ship effective 1 October 1946, which SECNAV approved on 4 September 1946. But on 30 September 1946 BUSHIPS recommended cancelling the conversion, for the reasons stated earler by the Bureau, because of stringency of funds, and for the reasons cited by COMSERVPAC on 28 August 1946. By 2 October 1946 the physical conversion of the ship had been indefinitely postponed, though preliminary design work continued. On 17 October 1946 CNO formally deferred the conversion. The ship was placed out of service and laid up in the Navy's reserve fleet on 24 October 1946. She was designated for disposal at that time but was retained and her status was changed to "in reserve" in June 1948.
The concept for a Tanker - Supply ship (now called replenishment ship, AOR) was again formally proposed by COMSERVRON TWO at a conference in Norfolk on 1 May 1947. Chief of Naval Operations Nimitz disapproved the proposal on 19 November 1947. In January 1948 CINCLANTFLT wrote to a new CNO (Denfeld) strongly defending the AOR concept, and Denfeld reversed Nimitz's decision. An AOR conversion (SCB Project No. 50) was included in the First Supplemental FY 1951 Shipbuilding and Conversion Program along with an AKS (SCB 49) and an AF (SCB 57) conversion. On 27 October 1950 CNO (now Forrest Sherman) promulgated military characteristics for all three conversions and approved and forwarded by letter the characteristics as recommended by the Ship Characteristics Board. In the first preliminary characteristics for SCB Project 50 in a draft dated 21 March 1950 the main changes from the AO 106 class fleet oiler included an alteration of the upper half of Nos. 7 and 8 cargo tanks to provide stowage for ammunition, provisions and stores, higher fuel transfer rates, and the addition of ten steam winches for cargo transfers. On 6 December 1950 CNO informed BUSHIPS that WACCAMAW (AO 109) had been designated as the AOR and SS MATCHLESS as the AF. On 11 December 1950 the classification AOR, Fleet tanker (replenishment) was established, and incident to the conversion of WACCAMAW (AO 109) to a fleet tanker (replenishment) her designation was changed to AOR 109. However on 30 January 1951 CNO Sherman stated that because of the critical need for black oilers to support fleet operations no oiler could be spared for the planned conversion to AOR and that the conversion was deferred for the present. On 7 May 1951 it was noted that the conversion of AOR 109 had been deferred indefinitely and her designation was changed back to AO 109.
Because of the non-availability of a regular fleet oiler, CNO on 29 October 1951 tentatively designated CONECUH for the AOR conversion in the FY 1951 1st Supplemental Appropriations. On 4 September 1952 CONECUH (AO 110) was reclassified AOR 110. Approved characteristics for the conversion of an AO to AOR, SCB Project No. 50, were promulgated on 6 November 1952 with a final change on 25 September 1957. CONECUH was converted from September 1952 to February 1953 and was placed in full commission on 16 Feb 1953. She was assigned to COMSERVLANT for service as a fleet replenishment ship and for evaluation. In November 1953 CONECUH was evaluated by COMHUKLANT in support of a Hunter-Killer Group (made up of an ESSEX-class carrier operating in an ASW role and specialized ASW escorts) and she was particularly impressive as a support ship for the escort ships. In 1954 CONECUH was deployed to the Sixth Fleet and between March and May she was completely evaluated by COMSERVFORSIXTHFLT. Two special receiving groups were formed and assigned to CONECUH for support. One of these groups included MIDWAY (CVA 41), NEWPORT NEWS (CA 148), and four destroyers, and four minesweepers and one oiler were also supported. CONECUH was scheduled for a navy yard availability at the Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydocking Co. at Baltimore in April 1956 but plans were changed and preparation of the ship for inactivation was ordered 20 Dec 1955. For the later history of the AOR type see the page for the AOR 1 class.
|110||CONECUH||In German service 20 Jul 1938 as DITHMARSCHEN. To Britain 6 Jun 1945 and renamed SOUTHMARK, allocated to the USN by the Allied Control Council and handed over 15 Jan 1946 at Kiel, in service as USS DITHMARSCHEN (IX 301) 2 May 1946, to USS CONECUH (AO 110) effective 1 Oct 1946, out of service 24 Oct 1946. Reclassified AOR 110 4 Sep 1952, comm. 16 Feb 1953, decomm. 3 Apr 1956, to MA temporary custody 4 Apr 1956. Sold 23 Nov 1960 by MA to Southeastern Rail & Steel Co. for $136,688 and BU.|
Compiled: 18 Sep 2021
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2021
Special sources: NARA: RG 19 BUSHIPS General Corresp 1953-57 boxes 161, 171, and 196, RG 19 BUSHIPS Confidential Corresp 1946-61 box 42; Thomas Wildenberg, Gray Steel and Black Oil (Annapolis, 1996)