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USS YAG 39 (ex George Eastman) on 12 November 1953 fitted for Operation Transit Able.
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Class: YAG 39 (YAG 39)
Design: MC EC2-S-C1
Displacement (tons): 3,890 light, 11,400 full
Dimensions (feet): 442' oa, 416' pp x 57' e/wl x 28' max nav
Accommodations: 4 officers, 45 enlisted
Speed (kts.): 11
Propulsion (HP): 2,500
Machinery: Steam triple expansion reciprocating, 2 boilers (220psi/450deg), 1 screw
|39||YAG 39 (ex-GEORGE EASTMAN)||19 May 1953||Permanente Metals #2||24 Mar 1943||20 Apr 1943||20 Oct 1953|
|40||YAG 40 (ex-GRANVILLE S HALL)||18 May 1953||J A Jones, Panama City||16 Sep 1944||24 Oct 1944||--|
|39||YAG 39||1967||1 Dec 1975||15 Jun 1976||MA/S||--|
|40||YAG 40||1971||10 May 1971||31 Jan 1972||MA/S|
Source note: Much of the following information is from two articles in the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, Utah, dated 22 October 1995 and 24 May 2002 and later posted which cite documents obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with sailors involved. Shipscribe has no independent information on any of the research or operational activities described by the newspaper, although it is worth noting that they tend to fit with the chronologies of the ships as found in the usual official sources and some details are confirmed by other internet sources. The newspaper articles may be found HERE
On 20 April 1953 SECNAV wrote to the Secretary of Commerce that the Navy had an urgent requirement for two Liberty ships. This matter had been discussed and a tentative agreement reached for their transfer as soon as practicable at Suisun Bay to the Navy. The Commerce Department agreed by letter on 5 May 1953. They were designated YAG 39 (ex George Eastman
) and YAG 40 (ex Granville S Hall
). They were initiallty rigged so they could be steered by remote control and "driven through downwind radiation clouds resulting from atmospheric detonations of nuclear devices" near Eniwetok and Bikini atolls. The crews were to reboard the ships only hours after passing through such clouds to wash them down. The Naval Vessel Register shows both ships in service in May 1953 to June 1954, probably for this initial nuclear weapons service. This was probably also the task for which YAG 36-38 were acquired in 1952, although they do not appear to have been so employed. The 1954 tests included Operation Castle (6 tests at Bikini), in which yields were far higher than predicted, and in 1956 both ships participated in Operation Redwing (17 tests at Bikini and Eniwetok) in which yields were closely controlled and monitored.
The Navy also became worried about how to protect and decontaminate its ships in the event of chemical or germ attacks. So Army scientists in Utah assembled an ocean-based test project similar to trials conducted on land at the Dugway Proving Ground for decades. The at-sea testing was overseen by the Deseret Test Center at Dugway. Its small support navy was called "Project Shad," an acronym for "Ship Habitation and Decontamination." The earliest at-sea testing mentioned in the documents obtained by the newspaper occurred in 1956, and tests appear to have continued through the late 1960s. For the experiments, the Deseret Test Center obtained the use of YAG 39-40, which were used despite their earlier radiation exposure, possibly because of their remote steering capability or because they were rigged with cages for test animals and lab equipment that would be needed again. The Naval Vessel Register shows both ships in service from Feb 1955 to Sep 1957, probably for this service. Tests also included five tugboats and occasionally submarines, jets, barges and assorted smaller vessels. The idea was to have various ships crisscross through germ and nerve agent clouds to collect information about exposure and decontamination. Crew members occupied protected spaces, and information was evaluated by on-board lab facilities. The Liberty ships had "safety citadels" where crew members would retreat during testing. Crews in protective suits would then handle initial decontamination detail and the collection of dead test animals. One of the ships' first tests occurred in San Francisco Bay in 1956 as part of "Operation Transit III," designed for "the assessment of the ship's protective defenses against a covert BW (biological warfare) attack." In September 1956, plans called for a 40-foot munition boat to create clouds of bacillus globigii germs that YAG 39 (Eastman
) would travel through and then turn over its sampling devices to labs for study. Planning documents said later phases of Operation Transit III were to use the more dangerous serratia marcescens germ in the open sea if the San Francisco test proved successful. The NVR shows both ships returning to active service in October 1962 and still active in 1965. At this time they were given huge "birdbath" fittings on the foremast to catch particulate matter from the atmosphere. Tests reportedly occurred for years with both chemical and biological agents, usually in remote areas of the Pacific. An Army response to a Congressional inquiry in 1992 said that Project Shad ships "participated in some 111 tests" from January 1963 to September 1965, but tests may have continued through around 1967.
On 3 July 1963 the names GEORGE EASTMAN and GRANVILLE S HALL were officially restored to YAG 39 and YAG 40. No such action was taken for YAG 36-38.
In 1970 Granville S Hall
was monitoring American and foreign nuclear tests with funding and operational control directly from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While at Tahiti on 13 April 1970 to monitor a French test (which the French then coincidentally delayed for three weeks) she briefly became the only ship in position to recover the stricken Apollo 13 lunar mission and ended up backing up USS IWO JIMA during the successful recovery on 17 Apr 1970.
Acquisition dates above are from MARAD vessel status cards, SD shows both as 2 Apr 1953. Both shown in the Naval Vessel Register as active 5.1953 (upon acquisition), to reserve/out of service 6.1954, active 2.1955, to reserve/out of service at San Diego 9.1957, active in commission 10.1962, still there 1.1964.
|39||YAG 39||1104||(ex-GEORGE EASTMAN, compl. 5 May 1943). FY 1953. Not in MA hands between 1953 and 1976, in USN reserve 1954-55 and 1957-62. Name originally dropped, restored 3 Jul 1963 (probably for both ships). To buyer 12 Jul 1976.|
|40||YAG 40||2325||(ex-GRANVILLE S HALL, compl. 7 Nov 1944). FY 1953. Not in MA hands between 1953 and 1972, in USN reserve 1954-55 and 1957-62. Sold by MA as a regular ship outside its EC2 disposal program, to buyer 9 Mar 1972 at Pearl Harbor.|
Compiled: 20 Oct 2021
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2021