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Army Ships: Several ships on this page were part of the relatively little known (today) U.S. Army fleet. The Army Ships page has some discussion and several references.

Individual ships will show revision dates. Last update to page: 12/1/2009.

Miscellaneous Ships

Sgt. George D. Keathley (additional text 10/14/2006)
Bartlett

F. V. Hunt - Built as the 1937 Army Mine Planter Lt. Col. Ellery W. Niles, subsequently the Cayman Salvage Master, and now a Key West dive site that is misidentified in local lore as the wreck of an ex-buoy tender. (photos added 12/1/2009)


USNS Sgt. George D. Keathley (T-AGS 35)

USNS Sgt. George D. Keathley in port during North Atlantic Sruveys

These two, USNS Sgt. George D. Keathley and USNS Sgt. Curtis Shoup were stopgap ships, largely forgotten I suspect. The USNS Sgt. George D. Keathley at least has a bit of a net presence. A search of the Internet gave me two results. One in the Naval Vessel Register (NVR) and another on a Taiwanese Warship Museum page. I cannot find even one Internet reference to her sister, USNS Sgt. Curtis Shoup (T-AG 175), a ship I knew only from associates' description. Both ships did general geophysical work during a period when there was increasing need for this information and the ships designed for the work were not yet on-line. They were stopgaps, quickly acquired and modified and probably treated accordingly. This is the probable cause for a reputation they had for marginal upkeep.

The DANFS entries for both Keathley and Shoup are on the Naval Historical Center's web site. Keathley has an interesting history and my obtaining the DANFS volume with that history cleared a number of mysteries. One was the odd APC-117 classification that is not held by any other ship in the current NVR on-line list. Another was a rumor of past service as some sort of Army ship. I knew F. V. Hunt, Albert J. Myer and Neptune had Army backgrounds, but they were special, they were all cable ships. It was finding the Army background for these two ships that led me to begin digging into the question of just how many ships did Army operate. That in turn led to the Army Ships page.

Shoup (ex-Spindle Eye) had less interesting operational history than Keathley as she was launched late in the Second World War (25 May 1945) and apparently spent the Korean War period in the Reserve Fleet before being brought out 16 January 1963 to become USNS Sgt. Curtis Shoup (T-AG 175). There is an exception to that "less interesting" aspect. The ship was a Signal Corps "radio city," a floating newsroom ship intended to cover the invasion of Japan that sailed from Seattle two weeks after the ceremony in Tokyo Bay and then covered the dawn of the atomic age and Cold War. (See the Spindle Eye page for more.)

Sgt. George D. Keathley, ex Alexander R. Nininger, ex Acorn Knot (both names are listed under the Knot class) was a C1-M-AV1 type laid down under Maritime Commission contract as hull 2247 on 16 June 1944 by Walter Butler Shipbuilders Inc., Duluth, MN. She was operated by Grace Lines in the Atlantic and the Caribbean then turned over to the Army Transportation Corps on 28 July 1946 until 1950. This explains what seemed a strange gap in Navy service while not being evident in commercial service.

She was awaiting transfer to the newly created Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) under Navy when the Korean War started and she played a critical initial role:

Chapter V, United States Army in the Korean War; South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu [Roy E. Appleman, Center of Military History, CMH Pub 20-2-1; U. S. Army; Washington, D.C. 1992] sheds more light on the departure conditions with "The Sergeant Keathley, a Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) ship, left North Pier, Yokohama, at midnight 27 June bound for Pusan, Korea, with 1,636 long tons of ammunition and twelve 105-mm. howitzers on board." Chapter VI reveals she also carried Army Officers: "Most of the KMAG officers who had left Korea by air on 27 June returned aboard the ammunition ship Sergeant Keathley on 2 July." She made this run in what appears to be an "in between" status of having officially left Army service, but not yet fully manned and equipped by the new Navy MSTS.

The ship was kept busy during these early days of the build up in Korea. The history of the 8076th MASH describes preparation for departure from Pier 2, Yokohama aboard Keathley. In History of United States Naval Operations: Korea, Part 2, Troops and Supplies, posted on the Naval Historical Center's web site, has additional information on Keathley and a brief description of the new Military Sea Transportation Service's role and the shipping situation.

William Lyons was aboard and in e-mail of August 2006 writes:

The T-APc-117 appears to be a brief, possibly unique, Navy designation as "small coastal transport." On 11 December 1956 she went out of service and into the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) on the Hudson until reactivation and assignment to MSTS in 1966 as USNS Sgt. George D. Keathley (T-AGS-35).

Sgt. George D. Keathley and Sgt. Curtis F. Shoup were both World War II Medal of Honor recipients, as was Second Lieutenant Alexander R. Nininger, Jr., the person after whom hull 2247 was first named. The name change may have been due to a decision to name this class of ships after Sergeant MOH holders. The interesting part of that is that this ship was first named for Nininger, then Acorn Knot, and lastly a Sergeant MOH holder. It indicates possibility of a plan to put 2247 into Army auxiliary service named for an officer MOH holder. This was changed before delivery to commercial operation by Grace Lines as Acorn Knot followed by postwar Army acquisition in the class of transports named for sergeants. Another ship, the M. I. T. Victory, was named for Lieutenant Nininger in 1947 and is mentioned in the same press release that discusses Spindle Eye's pressroom service.

Poor Keathley certainly demonstrated marginal upkeep on the one three month tour I made. My memory is one of peeling paint, locker doors that didn't quite close, not very clean and the worst food I've ever seen at sea. The last was due more to a crew problem that was rectified the last leg I made with relief of several ship's officers. It was a mild throwback to perhaps the days of sail. I remember thinking the day I cut into a tough piece of liver and getting something greenish out of the center of Royal Navy salt pork with grubs from the days of Nelson. I did try the tapping of hard bread to extract weevils, but never got many. Oddly, though on the menu each day, there was no iced tea or Cool Aid aboard. We got water. The night rations of cold cuts retained a mark I made in the mold during the first month well into the second. That was interesting. For that second leg I did as others had before. I bought a lot of canned food ashore.

I gather the Shoup had similar upkeep problems, but never heard of particularly bad food. The Keathley problem was unusual and the result of a personnel problem. In a conversation with the replacement Chief Steward he mentioned having to throw over hundreds of pounds of spoiled meat alone. That lack of attention was a shame in light of the fairly distinguished history Keathley has recorded in her DANFS entry. Maybe she just suffered what other Korea veterans felt was their fate.

I've noted searches on "Keathley" appear frequently in connection with oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico. I believe (I have not been able to refresh memory with a check with formal sources) that this canyon extending out from Garden Bank off Texas is named for the USNS Sgt. George D. Keathley. This is probably in honor of the fact she conducted a major unclassified geophysical survey of the Gulf that was a public resource for such data in the region.

On 29 March 1972 Keathley was transferred to Taiwan where she became Chu Hwa (AGS-564). She was long listed under the "Taiwanese Warship Museum" pages that are no longer available. Did this mean Chu Hwa is now a museum piece? It would be fitting considering her history in the area.

Photos of the ship as Chu Hwa (AGS-564) may be seen on the ship's NavSource page, T-APC-117 / T-AGS-35 Sgt. George D. Keathley.

Keathley: Updated 23 December 2001 - information on Spindle Eye and the Nininger naming.


USNS Bartlett (T-AGOR 13)

I had one "pleasure" cruise in Bartlett. That was my only personal experience in one of these small oceanographic ships (AGOR list). It reminded me of school days and the little research vessels, though Bartlett was larger than those. It was a fun job, well out of the ordinary for us deep ocean types, as it was near shore in the Caribbean. My other experiences with these little guys was from larger ships - even the small Bent class was much larger. I remember watching De Steiguer from Bent in some pretty large seas off the West Coast. We took some exciting rolls, but poor little De Steiguer would go from hull in sight to just tip of mast to occasionally invisible all the time -- all when she was within a mile or two. They really were not satisfactory survey vessels and were not designed as such. The transducers were so shallow and the ships so lively that swell and sea barely noticeable on even the Bent class blacked the echo returns on these ships. Even on that "pleasure" cruise we lost trace in pleasant brisk weather in deep water.

Bartlett and her sisters at first glance appear to be just small versions of the Silas Bent class, but this is only superficial. They have sort of the same profile and that is about the extent of similarity. The larger ships had a large wardroom with officer and technical party quarters up one level and bridge, radio room and such up one more level. Working spaces, one deck down on the same level as the stern working area, were divided by a central passageway with wet labs to starboard and survey control and other work spaces to port. Crew quarters and some more working areas were down another level. On the AGORs there was none of this. There was one space for work. The wardroom was a small space forward with several booths. A walk from the stern working area took one right through the main working area, past quarters and to (I believe) the wardroom area in the bow. They were pretty simple in plan and there were few to no places to escape. Absolutely nothing like Flyer.

These are the AGOR 3 or Robert D. Conrad class ships, though De Steiguer and Bartlett were later rather different designs, that were Navy owned and often university operated. The were built in true "research vessel" style and in their university role are designated "R/V" for Research Vessel. They did lots of good work for universities and Navy labs. Those operated by Navy were sometimes more "charter boats" (ships of opportunity) than project ships. They were available for special jobs, came with the basics of navigation and equipment and provided space for researchers who brought their own special equipment. As a result, their names are more often found in the scientific literature than most other Navy connected ships. See the AGOR Numeric List page for these ships as well. Two other very similar ships, though slightly smaller became AGS: Kellar (AGS 25) (to Portugal 1/21/72) and S. P. Lee (AG 192) (Mexican Navy's Antares).

AGOR: 1/17/2001 (disposition notes moved to AGOR Numeric List page)


R/V F. V. Hunt

R/V F. V. Hunt was a Marine Acoustical Services, Inc. (later TRACOR) of Miami, Florida charter research vessel. She was named for Dr. Frederick V. Hunt, an acoustical researcher. She was small, like an AGOR, but seemed more stable and probably had more beam and draft. She really was an odd little ship and had strangely luxurious fittings, almost yacht like -- not quite antique, but of some age. Most strikingly odd was the fact that she was a tiny cable ship with miniature bow sheaves (maybe 36-40 inch diameter). By the time I became acquainted her in 1968 her cable days were long gone. At least there was no sign of use or recent maintenance and the cable tank was our working space. After knowing some big cable ships this was more a head shaking matter -- a toy cable ship out of some strange past.

What I remember of the luxury was an impressive wardroom aft with beautiful polished wood panels forming a great curve aft of the long wardroom table that stretched across nearly the full width of the space. The space itself was nearly the full width of the ship, but short in the fore and aft dimension. Above was a great cabin, almost the twin of the wardroom and with a view onto its own covered deck. The wide, polished wood rails of both levels formed a graceful curve around the stern. There were more curves and much more polished wood trim, exterior and interior, than any working ship I'd ever known. The wheel was the stereotypical wooden spoked affair so common in nautical shops and so rare on modern ships. Those tend to have little steering wheels or even things that aren't wheels at all for steering.

Somehow I could not imagine cable operations, but could well imagine dress uniforms, ladies in frilly dresses, and tall glasses of cool drinks on some river or harbor cruise out in some prewar semi-imperial post such as the Philippines. She might have been some Commanding General's yacht built under a cable maintenance excuse. That was pure fantasy. The real story is much less romantic and much more military.

One might ask why "Commanding General" and not Admiral. There was some knowledge aboard at the time of an Army past. Later I found confirmation in a book on world cable ships. Still, if I recall correctly, the indication was that she had been built as some sort of Army vessel to provide a regional or local command a cable laying and maintenance capability. I had a picture of her laying communications between islands, still possibly in the tropics somewhere. It was easy to see the luxury added for dual use as the Commanding General's yacht. It turns out it was more probably just the craftsmanship of the time she was built. She never served in remote, semi-colonial places at all as far as I can tell, though I wouldn't be at all surprised to find she'd hosted some nice afternoons for the local brass.

After years of thinking in terms of some sort of odd Army communications cable work, probably under Corps of Engineers, I added Hunt to this page. I began the Army Ships page after noticing how many of the ships I knew had some connection with Army a short time later. On finding the Army ship story was more complex than I'd imagined, I began digging more deeply into Hunt's past. First I found a copy of Lloyd's Register of Ships (1969-70) and hoped to find Hunt's previous name and a bit of history. There was not much beyond bare facts:

This last did not quite fit what I knew from being aboard. The elegant fittings just did not fit a 1965 conversion from an ordinary mine layer. The features were far too old to have been added by Marine Acoustical Services and contractors aren't in the financial position of adding such non functional touches just to be pleasing. That gave me another little project and mystery to work with these ships.

Army Mine Planter Service Insignia (Authorized January 1920)

Two days later I obtained a loan of a copy of Grover's U.S. Army ships and Watercraft of World War II (cite) with a reference to the Hunt. That solved the mystery. She was originally the Lt. Col. Ellery W. Niles built for the U.S. Army, Coast Artillery Corps, Army Mine Planter Service (AMPS) by Pusey and Jones Company of Wilmington, Deleware. A photo caption under the book's photo of Niles, a ship that I recognized immediately as Hunt, mentions: "Possibly the most beautiful ship ever built by the Army." She was not part of a class. She was the only ship built for AMPS between the First World War and the outbreak of the second in Europe in 1939. She was a single ship obviously built with considerable care. Despite being small, she looked and felt like a ship should. She was not just the simplest floating box that could float and do a job. A few years later sixteen ships of another, much less elegant, design were constructed in West Virginia -- another oddity -- for AMPS.

22 June 1937 Launch of AMPS Lt. Col. Ellery W. Niles
Original signed photo with caption a gift of Joseph Neely

Ellery W. Niles was operated and crewed by the Army Mine Planter Service where the Army's Warrant Officers Corps originated. Those little sheaves were originally to lay the control cables for mines in the controlled mine fields associated with the coastal batteries guarding our ports. She had operated out of the San Francisco area during World War II and on the East Coast before the war.

The Mine Planter Service is interesting in itself and will be covered in connection with the Army Ships pages. Of particular interest today is the fact that "Officially, the birth date of the Army Warrant Officer Corps is 7 July 1918, when Congress established the Army Mine Planter Service as part of the Coastal Artillery." That quote and a photo of a few of the original Army Mine Planter Service Warrant Officers may be seen at "History of the Army Warrant Officer Corps" that gives more detailed information. Warrants had been issued from Revolutionary war times, but on an individual basis, but the Warrant Officer organization for the Army Mine Planter Service was established by Congress. It was given distinctive uniform and rank insignia for the masters, mates, chief engineers and assistant engineers of the vessels.

The reality of war near the middle of the century where carriers had proved themselves at Pearl Harbor showed coastal defense was best served by fleets at sea, not static defenses limited by heavy gun range. The AMPS ships had no function. One, Maj. Gen. Arthur Murray, became both a Navy (ARC-5) and Coast Guard cable layer. Others became Navy ACM mine warfare vessels. Grover states that Lt. Col. Ellery W. Niles later served as an Army cable ship under the Signal Corps, then became the "cable vessel F. V. Hunt" and then shows under Cayman Island registry as the Cayman Salvage Master. Thus it appears she did serve a while as little sister to the Signal Corps ships Albert J. Myer and William H. G. Bullard (later Neptune).

R/V F. V. Hunt did oceanographic work at least through 1973. Records for her work in the Mid-Ocean Dynamics Experiment (MODE) are in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institute Archives and Special Collections. Various charts and data are mentioned along with a "summary of operations, 1972-1973" giving what may be a last trace of her second life in research.

It appears the only way to visit her now is to dive. Cayman Salvage Master is listed as a popular dive site in the Florida Keys. Unfortunately the dive web pages seem incredibly full of inaccurate historical information! One would think divers would like to have some actual history of the ships they explore. Instead I find the "dive pages" full of misinformation and sometimes resistant to change even when accurate information is provided. One of the very few with accurate information on this vessel, SeaWolf Productions, also has some nice photos of the ship now.

On many of the diving web pages she is described as a Coast Guard "buoy tender." That is not the case. Her cable sheaves are mentioned. I suppose some think they had something to do with buoy tending. Others mention that she was seized by the U.S. after participation in the Mariel boat lift in 1979. That story is apparently no more true than the buoy tender story as more reliable sources indicate the ship could not have participated.

I'm afraid her last days were not much, though perhaps interesting. She apparently continued registry in the Caymans, thus Grover's mention of registry in the mid nineteen-eighties. She was apparently last tied up in Key West and sank at the pier. Then she sank again while under tow in 1985 to her intended deep water resting place. She sank shallow enough for visitors. Maybe this single, unique little ship, without any sisters, was somehow headstrong and was not going to go away so quietly to total obscurity.

Sad maintenance I'm sure caused these problems, but for those who can sometimes suspend reality and think of ships as somehow living things maybe not all that sad an end. I think I like a fate as a good dive lying among the reef fish for the Army's most beautiful ship. At least it is warmer than when I knew her! Having "a large school" of reef fish as residents and occasional interested visitors beats being an out-of-sight fishing reef or, worse, being torn apart in some third world breaker's yard for scrap metal -- the fate of several of the ships I knew.

Unfortunately my time on Hunt was characterized by rough and icy seas, blizzard, and no comfortable moments to enjoy outside activities. We sailed shortly after USS Pueblo, over in the next basin, left and straight into a gale. Funny thing about that. We'd had lots of breakdowns. Each morning we'd check out of our hotel and grab cabs for Hunt. The drivers would usually say "Hai! Spy ship."

We had lots of LORAN whips. One of my photos may also help explain, though I didn't make a connection until viewing back home. There are four of my colleagues standing by the curved rail aft of that great cabin in nearly identical dark London Fog coats. Each day a bunch of crazy civilians checked out of the main hotel, raced with suitcases to the ship with all the whips, then returned around noon and try to get their hotel rooms back. One day it didn't work and we spent the afternoon seeking other lodgings -- even seeing if the hourly rates in the little hotels with red velvet lobbys would fit budget. They didn't by a long shot! It was amusing to see the faces when we asked for a daily rate though. Funny, we were the "spy" ship and Pueblo was just another nondescript Navy auxiliary tied up quietly nearby. She sailed. We sailed a short time later. Then we got the news a week or so later.

I do remember the food -- absolutely great steaks available almost every night -- as being some of the best I've ever had at sea. I even remember the Chief Steward/Chief Cook's name - Art and there are only a few Chief Steward's names I remember. A couple for really good food and a couple for extraordinarily bad food. Art I remember for great food. I also remember I was one of the few of our group eating as most were sort of green on a small ship in cold rough seas. One or two were on saltine diets. One wasn't eating at all and seemed to wish for death.

A calm and cold day--just short of ice forming from spray

We did our work on makeshift plywood tables in what had once been a cable tank. I remember communications with the bridge were strange and unreliable. More than one turn was missed as the old phone system failed to get through in time. It wasn't easy. As was often the case with something out of the routine on these odd jobs it was a fun trip and I remember Hunt with a real warm spot -- even if I do get chills when I think of the outside at the time.

Note the curved wood rail and bow sheaves far larger than her little Army originals

Passage, second deck, with the great stateroom at end.

Bridge with some original wood.

And here she is as pictured in a 1940 Coast Artillery Journal article. She looked much the same in 1968 with the exception of the masts which had been removed and replaced with more modern forms.

Look at that woodwork!
This photo by Bill Searcy, one knowing the ship better than I, shows the curving woodwork up on that "back porch."

R/V Hunt: 04/11/99; Revised 10/24/2005; photos added 12/1/2009


Army Ships: Several ships on this page were part of the relatively little known (today) U.S. Army fleet. The Army Ships page has some discussion and several references.

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Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001 by Ramon Jackson

Permission is given for noncommercial use and distribution of the text and my photographs, provided copyright and this notice are maintained. If used in a web site concerning these ships I would appreciate notification, if for no other reason than to perhaps link to the site. All commercial rights to my photographs and text are reserved.