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USNS Alatna (T-AOG 81) ca. 1957.

USNS Alatna (T-AOG 81) ca. 1957.
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Class: ALATNA (T-AOG 81)
Design: MA T1-MET-24a
Displacement (tons): 2,367 light, 7,300 full
Dimensions (feet): 302' oa, 290' wl x 61' e/wl x 23' lim/max nav
Armament: none
Accommodations: 11 officers, 40 enlisted
Speed (kts.): 13
Propulsion (HP): 4,000
Machinery: High speed diesel electric, 2 screws

81ALATNA16 Aug 1955Bethlehem Steel, Staten Is.16 Mar 19566 Sep 195617 Jul 1957
82CHATTAHOOCHEE16 Aug 1955Bethlehem Steel, Staten Is.1 May 19564 Dec 195622 Oct 1957

AOGNameTInactStrikeDisposalFateMA Sale/Depart
81ALATNAT22 Jan 1985None?1 Oct 1995MA/T16 Dec 2006
82CHATTAHOOCHEET22 Jan 1985None?1 Oct 1995MA/T16 Dec 2006

Class Notes:
In July 1953, the Secretary of Defense appointed a special committee to study Northern American air defences against Soviet nuclear bombers attempting to penetrate American airspace from over the North Pole. In August 1953 the Soviet Union detonated its first hydrogen bomb. On 6 October 1953 the National Security Council approved a plan that included building a string of radar outposts, the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, across northern Canada and Greenland during the next five years. Getting the materials and supplies to the sites would involve a major transportation project in an Arctic environment, and the Air Force asked MSTS to move this cargo by sealift starting in the summer of 1955. Up to then no large ocean-going ship had attempted to navigate the waters east of Point Barrow, Alaska or west of Baffin Island. By January 1954 MSTS had added to its Long-Range Ship Construction Program (which already contained a prototype roll-on, roll-off vehicle cargo ship, AK 269, to support the Army in Germany) six ice-strengthened ships to support construction of the DEW Line. These were three small cargo ships (AK 270-272), two small tankers (AOG 81-82), and one cargo ship dock (AKD 1). In early 1954 MSTS requested a special appropriation of $50 million in Fiscal Year 1955 to build these seven ships. On 30 June 1954 the President signed the Defense Department Appropriation Act of 1955, which included the special $50 million MSTS appropriation.

On 19 January 1954 BUSHIPS submitted to MSTS cost estimates for the seven ships in the MSTS program and it revised these on 28 January 1954 after MSTS specified that for the AOG it wanted a ship of 3,100 SHP, 2 screws, 1,900 light displacement tons, ice strengthened, and with diesel electric reduction propulsion and a crew of 30 men. As of 23 March 1954 work on the preliminary design of the AOG had not yet begun. On 6 July 1954 John Bader of the BUSHIPS Preliminary Design Branch (Code 420) recorded the details of the completed preliminary design for the ships. The basic measurements were 302’ oa, 290’ wl length x 60’ wl beam x 18.8’ full load draft, 5,661 tons at full load, and 3671 tons light (ballasted). The cargo capacity was 2,921 tons, including 956 tons of aviation gasoline located forward, 985 tons of heavy and aviation fuel, and 980 tons of diesel oil. The ship also carried 626 tons of diesel oil in its double bottom and wing tanks for its own propulsion. This propulsion was diesel-electric with 4,000 BHP installed, 3,400 SHP maximum continuous at 145 RPM giving a trial speed of 13.5 knots and an endurance of 10,000 miles at 12kts. The BUSHIPS Machinery Design Branch (Code 430) recommended one direct current direct drive electric propulsion motor and one 2,000 BHP diesel engine and generator on each of the two shafts. The ship had a complement of 15 officers, 32 crew, and 12 passengers (stevedores). The liquid cargo tanks for gasoline, HEAF jet fuel (later called JP-5), and diesel oil were arranged in approximately equal volumes of about 8,000 barrels each. There was a secondary conning station and crow's nest forward. Fore and aft access to this station was by an enclosed raised tunnel on the centerline above the main deck. Four 10-ton booms were provided to handle pipeline connections, drummed POL and other deck cargo. Two of these booms were supported from the secondary conning station forward and two from kingposts aft. The main deck amidships was kept clear to provide space for sleds, Sno-Cats, and drummed POL. To obtain as good maneuvering characteristics as possible the length of the ship was limited to that of the EDISTO (AGB 2) class icebreakers (290’ LBP, vice the 300’ specified by MSTS) and the beam was made less than that of the icebreakers. As specifically requested by MSTS the hull form and appendages were patterned after GLACIER (AGB 4) in order to retain maximum ice protection features. The section in way of the propellers was pulled out so that the propellers were covered by the hull at the water line, although otherwise they lacked ice protection. Twin screw propulsion was provided at the request of MSTS despite its disadvantages from a propulsion and protection standpoint.

On 20 August 1954 MSTS reported to CNO that design work and planning on the six ice-strengthened ships had progressed to the state where it was considered most desirable that they be assigned vessel type numbers, and CNO on 21 September 1954 authorized BUSHIPS to assign the hull numbers, nomenclature and classifications. On 27 September 1954 the BUSHIPS Ship Design Division (Code 410) reported that it had originally been intended to assign work as design agent for the AOGs to Bethlehem Steel Co. because it was one of the leading tanker design firms in this country, but subsequent conversations disclosed that this company had a design work load which would prevent them from doing this work in the required period of time. Sun Shipbuilding Co was then considered but eliminated in view of the assignment to it of urgent Navy work on the MSTS Tanker program (T-AO 149). The situation at New York Shipbuilding was then re-examined and it was found that preparation of the AOG contract design could be assigned to it without jeopardizing other Navy work. By early November 1954 the contract design by New York Ship was 5% complete. On 16 Nov 1954 Code 420 reported that the preliminary design, having been reviewed by MSTS, was now considered complete and forwarded it to the BUSHIPS Hull Design Branch (Code 440) for the development of the contract design. On 15 February 1955 the Navy completed arrangements with MARAD for the transfer of funds for construction of the ships. The MARAD design designation T1-MET-24a for T-AOG 81-82 was first mentioned on 18 February 1955. MSTS on 1 April 1955 approved the contract plans, and the plans and specification for the ships were signed on 12 April 1955. BUSHIPS authorized release of the design for construction on 22 April 1955.

The two ships were accepted for service in the Atlantic in July and October 1957. In the meantime MSTS had used PINNEBAUG and WACISSA (T-AOG 58 and 59) in Arctic service in 1956-57 following earlier intermittent Arctic service by commissioned sisters NAMAKAGON and NESPELEN (AOG 53 and 55), in Alaska and in the Atlantic respectively. NESPELEN had been strengthened for Arctic operations in a restricted availability in February 1951, allowing her to operate independently in loose pack ice, and her small size made her much more suitable for operations in ice than larger ships like ACHERNAR and WYANDOT (AKA 53 and 92). The AOGs as well as the new small AKs could resupply remote outposts that larger ships could not reach.

In 1958 the Distant Early Warning Line went into full operation. Support of the line shifted mostly to the Air Force and Canada, and by 1960 the DEW Line support responsibilities of MSTS were limited to Thule and Goose Bay. The two new AOGs were released from Arctic service in 1960-61. In 1961 ALATNA was transferred to the Pacific while CHATTAHOOCHEE was briefly laid up, then returned to service in the Atlantic, and then transferred to the Pacific in 1965. Both were laid up in 1972 at Suisun Bay, reactivated in 1979-82 to replace RINCON and PETALUMA which were leased to South Korea, and inactivated and transferred to the Ready Reserve Force (RRF) in 1985.

As of 1999 the Ready Reserve Force was a fleet of 90 reserve ships maintained and crewed by the Maritime Administration and which could be activated in four, five, 10 or 20 days. As merchant ships, RRF ships were designated as SS or MV instead of USNS, and while in RRF status the AOGs were classed by MARAD and MSC as T-AOT (Government Owned Tankers or Common Use Tankers) while retaining their AOG hull numbers. RRF ships came under the operational control of the Military Sealift Command only when activated. ALATNA and CHATTAHOOCHEE were maintained on 10 days notice at their layup berth at Tsuneishi (previously at Yokohama), Japan, by Crowley Marine Services of Seattle acting as General Agent. They remained in RRF status there until they were downgraded out of the RRF to non-retention status by a USTRANSCOM memo of 21 September 2006.

Ship Notes:
81ALATNA44FY 1955 (MSTS). Accepted for service in Atlantic 17 Jul 1957. Transferred from MSTS Atlantic to MSTS Honolulu 1 June 1961, to MSTS Far East 25 May 1966, and to MSTS Pacific 22 Apr 1967. OOS and to MA custody 8 Aug 1972 at Suisun Bay, to MA (title) 1 Jul 1974. To Navy (title) 31 Jul 1979 and to MSC Pacific for reactivation and overhaul, to MSC and IS 3 Feb 1982 for service in the Pacific and then the Far East replacing AOG 77 and 79. OOS and to MA custody 22 Jan 1985 (RRF at Yokohama, Japan), Navy retaining title. RRF layberth changed from Yokohama to the Tsuneishi Shipyard near Hiroshima Jan 1993, status from RRF to NDRF (regular reserve) 10.1994, back to RRF 8.1995. From RRF to disposal status 30 Sep 2006, sold by MA 16 Dec 2006 to the Teroaka Co. of Japan to BU.
82CHATTAHOOCHEE45FY 1955 (MSTS). Accepted for service in Atlantic 22 Oct 1957. To MA temporary custody 3 May 1960, returned to MSTS 23 Jun 1961. Transferred from MSTS Atlantic to MSTS Pacific 12 May 1965 and to MSTS Far East 16 May 1965. To MA custody 22 Feb 1972 at Suisun Bay, MA (title) 1 Jul 1973. To Navy (title) 31 Jul 1979 for reactivation and overhaul, to MSC and IS 11 Jan 1982 for service at Honolulu and then in the Far East replacing AOG 77 and 79. OOS and to MA custody 22 Jan 1985 (RRF at Yokohama, Japan), Navy retaining title. RRF layberth changed from Yokohama to the Tsuneishi Shipyard near Hiroshima Jan 1993, status from RRF to NDRF (regular reserve) 10.1994, back to RRF 8.1995. From RRF to disposal status on 30 Sep 2006, sold by MA 16 Dec 2006 to the Teroaka Co. of Japan to BU.

Page Notes:
Compiled: 18 Aug 2021
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2021
Special sources: NARA: RG 19 Entry P 62 boxes 25-27.