Ship Index
Silas Bent class
Navy Oceanographic Research Ship (AGOR) Numeric Listing

August 16, 2010: Status update AGS-51

Navy Survey Ship (AGS) Designator Listing


Almost all AGS ships supported the Naval Hydrographic Office. Some immediate post WW II conversions survived into the days of the Naval Oceanographic Office (NAVOCEANO) -- a name change better reflecting the mission need to collect oceanographic data as well as hydrographic data. NAVOCEANO used to be a command under the Oceanographer of the Navy. In fact, at the time the Naval Hydrographic Office was becoming the Naval Oceanographic Office the Oceanographer of the Navy was created by CNO as an OPNAV within the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations with collateral duties as commander of the new NAVOCEANO.

At that time the office was located in Suitland, Maryland, minutes from downtown Washington and quite close to the other Navy commands requiring its products. It was only a morning's drive from the center of Atlantic fleet activities in Norfolk. Its travelers were close to two international airports (Dulles and what was then Friendship Airport, now Baltimore/Washington International) and one right on the Potomac (DCA) with frequent flights for connections. Our travel was largely to where the fleet focused: North Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In the mid nineteen-seventies NAVOCEANO was moved to Mississippi, close to the Gulf of Mexico with almost no fleet requirements and where our ships put in only on "open house" courtesy visits. A fleet of vehicles had to be bought to give us access to New Orleans airport with only a few flights that connected to those North Atlantic and Pacific staging locations. In my view that was one of the strangest locations for such an agency, but that is politics. The office is now located on the NASA installation named for the person that made the move happen in that way, the Stennis Space Center.

NAVOCEANO is now a subordinate command to Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command which is itself now only a third echelon command under Commander, Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. Until a few years ago the Oceanographer's office was in the beautiful old central building of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington. The Oceanographer of the Navy has now essentially vanished. An excellent overview of the history of this command is found in Dr. Charles Bates' book, Hydro to Navoceano (1830 - 2005).

Dr. Bates is a former Scientific and Technical director of NAVOCEANO and later Science Advisor to the Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard. As 1st Lt. Bates he had previously been part of the team that forecast the window in the foul weather opening the way for the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944. His specialty was sea, surf and swell so critical for a successful landing. In retrospect that hole in the weather is credited as being an unforeseen factor in achieving such surprise. The Germans, denied their weather bases in Greenland, could not develop such a forecast. Thinking weather prevented a landing many key commanders were taking advantage and on leave.

The list below is interesting and somewhat confusing as a result of some of the old conversions having higher numbers than the Bent Class. For example, Rehoboth (ex AVP 50) was designated AGS 50 as a "classic" conversion. Her last active days were as the AGS 26 series was starting operations.

The Hydrographic Office, under the Hydrographer of the Navy, and Oceanographic Office under the Oceanographer of the Navy. What is the difference in names? Here is a personal view of the practical difference and a few links to hydrographic and oceanographic pages.

Since about 1943 survey ships have been designated AGS or AGSc (for "coastal"). The latter were redesignated AGSC then abolished. Prior to that time they may have be simply AG or retained another classification while doing survey work for long periods. Kellar (AGS 25), a small AGOR type assigned to hydrography, and Silas Bent (AGS 26) are the first of the designed-for-survey class AGS ships. All the others began as something else.

Pre World War II Survey Ships

These were direct predecessors of the Twentieth Century AGS survey ships. There are ships famous for their survey work dating back to the beginning of the Navy. Some were specially outfitted for an expedition while others were simply surveying as part of ordinary deployments that due to remote locations or special events gained fame for survey work. Most ships collected and sent data to the charting organization, but are not noted for doing so. Their contribution was important, but not often recognized. I am limiting this page to those later ships that conducted surveys as their primary mission.

Several ships never given the AG or AGS designation were dedicated survey vessels. One, a beautiful little ex yacht, was the Nokomis II. This vessel was assigned to the Hydrographic Office in 1921 and assigned to Caribbean surveys until decommissioning in February 1938. NavSource's Nokomis page has photos and the ship's DANFS. This ship should not be confused with Nokomis I, ex Kwasind (SP-1233), an entirely different vessel so similar as to be confusing.

Hull number links in the following tables are to NavSource page containing photos and other information. Name links go to various sources of additional information. A well organized listing is available at Gunter Kreb's site, Gunter's U.S. Navy Ships, in Denmark. His coverage of ships on this site will tend to be under "Auxiliaries; Special."

AG-1 Hannibal (ex SS Joseph Holland) Hannibal never carried the AGS designation, but was the earliest survey "AG" and apparently the first of all AG/AGS types. She was built in England in 1898, acquired by the Navy as a collier 4/16/1898 and decommissioned in 1911. She was recommissioned 10/16/1911 and assigned to the U.S. Survey Squadron preparing for the Panama Canal opening. She surveyed, off and on, until the outbreak of World War II, when she "retired" to the Chesapeake Bay degaussing range. Hannibal finally decommissioned 8/20/44 and was sunk as a bombing target during March 1945.
AG-32 Bushnell This ship had quite a history: launched 9 February 1915 as a submarine tender (AS) and decommissioned 13 September 1946 with an identity change and considerable action in the Pacific in between. Bushnell was renamed & redesignated to AGS-5 Sumner (below), was effectively an "AGS" before the "S" for "survey" was added to the "AG" and then became another ship entirely; eventually bearing the AGS designation. In her second identity she was at Pearl Harbor 12/7/42 and also surveyed Bikini in 1946.

World War II & Post War Survey Ships

The earliest contributors to deep ocean echo sounding were not the designated survey ships. Those ships were dedicated to conventional coastal charting using classic hydrographic techniques. The early sonic devices seemed to be placed on destroyers, probably as a natural outgrowth of their early antisubmarine sonar expertise. The USS Stewart (DD 224) made a transit from Newport, Rhode Island to Gibraltar in 1922 for the start of a long Asiatic Fleet career ending very strangely in 1945. On that transit Stewart collected the first successful deep ocean profile using an echo sounder. (See the chart at the NOAA Photo Library) USS Hull (DD 330) and USS Corry (DD 334) pioneered echo sounding off the West Coast. Ships collected sonic soundings incidental to their normal operations (random tracks) that were collected at the Hydrographic Office for early deep ocean charts. Some, like USS Ramapo (AO-12), left their names on deep ocean features they discovered . Ramapo also left her name in the lore of waves. She is credited with the record wave height with reliable measurements. Deep ocean collection was pretty much a random track affair until antisubmarine warfare efforts pushed surveying offshore in the 1952-1954 period with undersea surveillance requirements.

Whether or not bearing the AGS designator, a number of ships surveyed for the Navy during World War II:

The Guide mentioned above had been something of a mystery to me. I'd noted a previous version of this page that:

That "unlikely" possibility was actually the answer.

It is solved. E-mail from the granddaughter (Patsy) of Capt. Loring F. Hyde, who served on USS Discoverer (ARS-3), led me to research these Navy/C&GS/Navy vessels a bit more. C&GS Guide, Discoverer and Pioneer, were former Navy minesweepers of the First World War.

The six C&GS ships mentioned in Pinsel's history quoted above are thus accounted for:
- Pathfinder, Hydrographer, and Oceanographer were C&GS ships of various origins and became AGS-1, AGS-2 and AGS-3 respectively in WW II continuing under their C&GS names. They are covered in the AGS numerical list below.
- Guide, Pioneer, and Discoverer were all First World War minesweepers transferred to C&GS retruning to Navy for WW II as ARS-1, ARS-2 and ARS-3 respectively. Only Discoverer retained her C&GS name. Viking (ex-Guide, ex-Flamingo) and Discoverer were operated under contract by the civilian salvage fir
m Merritt, Chapman and Scott, Inc. and it is probable Crusader (ex-Pioneer, ex-Osprey) was operated in the C. Z. under similar contract.)

After the WW II a number of newer Navy ships became C&GS survey vessels with more name change and name retention. For example, the famous Pioneer of post WW II days was originally the Mobjack (AGP-7 ex-AVP-27) -- retaining the C&GS name of the ex Navy Osprey/Crusader of WW I origin. There was swapping of ships during and after the war. Most of the ships exploring the oceans for the U.S. Between 1945 and the mid 1960s had these interesting and sometimes surprising histories. Despite a history of early competition for surveying work the Navy and C&GS cooperated closely during wartime with C&GS continuing to support Navy in peacetime with survey operations.

Today Effie M. Morrissey is the Ernestina that "regularly sails the New England coast on educational cruises when she is not at her berth near the foot of Union Street on the waterfront of New Bedford, Massachusetts, which is fronted by that city's National Historic Landmark district." She is right up to date for one announced to the world on February 5, 1894 with a registered URL: http://www.ernestina.org/index2.html. She even has her own Newfoundland Sea Cadet namesake.

Survey Ship (AGS) Classification

Note: Hull number links are to NavSource page containing photos and other information. Name links go to Naval Historical Center's on line DANFS where available. The DANFS publication date was shortly after the AGS-26 (Silas Bent) class became operational so there was not a lot of history to cover. There is generally no DANFS coverage, excepting ships designated in the early years with high AGS numbers, beyond that class in the published version.

Caution - links to the NOAA Historical Image collection changed less than two weeks after I made them. Apparently there is major reorganization going on and even NOAA's internal search engine gives bad links. Substitution of "ships" for "historic/c&gs" in the URL seems to work in many cases.

AGS-1 Pathfinder (Coast & Geodetic Survey transferred to Navy for World War II duration.) The NOAA Historical Image Collection is worth visiting for additional information. It includes a C&GS wartime service record. An overhead photo of Pathfinder underway in the Pacific is among the images. The caption reads: "Ship endured over 50 bombing raids and was crashed by a kamikaze at Okinawa It was said, "The road to Tokyo was paved with PATHFINDER charts." One might agree after examining the ship's own war track chart. NOAA History has an extensive "Recollections" for Pathfinder with details of her Navy service. Another photo shows the ship shortly after launching. Finally, a photo toward the end of her service in 1971 and another of Pathfinder with Shishaldin Volcano in the background. .
AGS-2 Hydrographer (Coast & Geodetic Survey transferred to Navy for World War II duration.) The NOAA Historical Photo Collection has a photo of Hydrographer in the Aleutians near Attu in 1943. She was one of the first vessels into Massacre Bay during the recapture of Attu.
AGS-3 Oceanographer (Coast & Geodetic Survey transferred to Navy for World War II duration.) The NOAA Photo Collection has a shot of the "Green Gremlin" just before scrapping. Another caption calls her "The Green Goblin" and notes her service in the Solomons and that it was her hydrographers coining the name Ironbottom Sound. A 1917 photo, during a brief WW I period of naval service under her original name Corsair (SP-159), shows her only slightly modified from her role as J. P. Morgan's yacht. This ship is often given as subject of the famous answer to a question of how much it cost. The answer was "If you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it." The question may have actually referred to "yachting" and not specifically the yacht. The Corsair II is closely associated with the "Jekyll Island Club," where a cannon was fired upon her arrival. See a painting of the vessel, named for Sir Henry Morgan's (an ancestor) buccaneer ship. According to an article once on the New York Yacht Club page Navy acquisition of his yachts drove them to become ever larger.
AGS-4 Bowditch Ex AG-30. Surveyed Bikini Atoll for the 1946 atomic tests of Operation Crossroads as part of TU 1.8.5 (Survey Unit): USS Bowditch (AGS-4), USS James M. Gilliss (AGS-13), USS John Blish (AGS-10), YMS-354, YMS-358, YMS-413, YP-636. The C&GS provided hydrographers during the war and the NOAA Photo Collection contains an overhead view of the ship.
AGS-5 Sumner (ex Bushnell (AS-2, AG-32*) A single ship with two early survey identities. Sumner was at Pearl Harbor during the attack on December 7, 1941 (See report).

* Previous "AG-2" was a blunder. The sequence was Busnell (AS-2/AG-32) renamed Sumner (AG-32/AGS-5)
AGS-6 Derickson (Navy PCS-1458 on loan to Coast & Geodetic Survey 1944, permanent transfer in 1948) The NOAA Photo Collection has an excellent photo of the ship.
AGS-7 Littlehales (ex PCS-1388) A later Littlehales was classified AGSc-15, (she was never classified AGS). AGSc-15 should not to be confused with AGS-15, Tanner.
AGS-8 Dutton (ex PCS-1396)
AGS-9 Armistead Rust (ex PCS-1404)
AGS-10 John Blish (ex PCS-1457) Whether by chance or plan the next hull number, PCS 1458, became the Derickson and the Derickson became the class leader for these PCS conversions - though she did not operate as a Navy vessel.
AGS-11 Chauvenet (ex YMS-195) There is only a brief DANFS mention of this vessel within the YMS type list.
AGS-12 Harkness (ex YMS-242) Harkness reclassified as AGSc-12 29 July 1946 and then to MHC-12 on 1 February 1955.
AGS-13 James M. Gilliss (ex YMS-262, became AGSc-13) Many reclassifications detailed in DANFS.
AGS-14 Simon Newcomb (ex YMS-263)
AGS-15 Tanner (ex Pamina AKA-34) The USS Pamina (AKA 34) is listed among the allied ships in Tokyo Bay during the surrender ceremony. Tanner (AGS 15) got some high level attention: "Specific information re Soviet harassment USS Tanner was most timely and useful and gave Khrushchev pause."
AGS-16 Maury (ex Renate AKA-36)
AGS-17 Pursuit (ex AM-108) Raven/Auk class 810-840 ton, diesel, twin screw minesweeper. This type was one of the major sources of postwar conversions: Prevail, Pursuit, Requisite, Sheldrake and Towhee were all of this group.
AGS-18 Requisite (ex AM-109)
AGS-19 Sheldrake (ex AM-62) Often mentioned almost as part of a combination "Sheldrake-Towhee" as they sometimes worked closely together. The DANFS entry for Sheldrake notes: "After almost three months in Hawaii, Sheldrake deployed to the western Pacific on 9 November. For almost a year and one-half, she and Tanner (AGS-15) and Towhee surveyed in the western Pacific, in the Philippines, and along the Southeast Asian coast."
AGS-20 Prevail (ex AM-107)
AGS-21 Bowditch (AGS-21 paragraph under first Bowditch (AG-30) history.) See also TAGS-21 Home. (ex South Bend Victory)
AGS-22 Dutton See also TAGS-21 Home. (ex Tuskegee Victory) For a photo and a special view of Bowditch and Michelson follow this Dutton link. "Slowbell" covers quite a few ships found on these pages under his View from the Upper Deck.
AGS-23 Michelson See also TAGS-21 Home. (ex Joliet Victory)
AGS-24 Seranno Seranno (ex AT/ATF 112, Abnaki Class Fleet Tug) recommissioned USS Seranno (AGS-24), 30 June 1960. A photo in 1968/69 Jane's shows her with two sound boats aft. The National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors (NAFTS) has lists of the tugs.
AGS-25 Kellar AGOR type hull assigned AGS designation. Last known to be Portugal's NRP Almeida Carvalho. Kellar and S. P. Lee (AG 192) (ex-AGS-31) appear almost identical to the standard AGOR. They were slightly smaller and may have been intended as a functional equivalent of the wartime AGSc ("c" for coastal). The AGOR's transducers were too close to the surface noise to be effective oceanic sounding platforms. This may explain this class' quick transit through AGS classification. Kellar turned turtle during hurricane "Betsy" at New Orleans on her way down from the Great Lakes builder. She was salvaged by Windlass (ARSD 4) with a brief description under Windlass' DANFS entry. (See Bartlett for more on the AGORs)
AGS-26 Silas Bent (The Silas Bent class composed of Silas Bent, Kane, Wilkes and Wyman is also covered elsewhere at this site.) Sold to Turkey and now the TCG Cesme. Name link is to Silas Bent Class page for Bent, Kane, Wilkes and Wyman.
AGS-27 Kane (See Silas Bent class at this site for more.) Sold to Turkey and now the TCG Candarli. (Link is to Silas Bent Class page for Bent, Kane, Wilkes and Wyman)
AGS-28 Towhee (ex AM 388) Often mentioned almost as part of a combination "Sheldrake-Towhee" as they sometimes worked closely together. Towhee swept mines around Japan in 1945, inactivated in 1954 and then reactivated for conversion to AGS 28 to replace Requisite. Her last surveys were off Vietnam before she was finally inactivated in 1969.
AGS-29 Chauvenet Built by Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, Glasgow, Scotland for the U. S. as a large coastal survey ship equipped with soundboats, helicopter and spaces for a military detachment as well as civilian surveyors. Along with AGS-32 replaced AGS-15 and AGS-16. Chauvenet is now the U.S.T.S. Texas Clipper II, and, I suppose, a devout Aggie platform.
AGS-30 San Pablo (ex AVP 30) AVP-30 (San Pablo) and AVP-50 (Rehoboth) converted from tenders to survey ships in 1948. See the Naval Historical Center Online Library of Selected Images, USS San Pablo page (Photo #: 80-G-413565 is of both ships in 1949).
AGS-31 S. P. Lee Jane's 1975/76 notes that "S. P. Lee T-AG 192 (ex-T-AGS 31) transferred to U.S. Department of Interior for geological survey on 27 Feb. 1974." An earlier edition has a note to the effect that this number was "reserved" for a Kellar Class hull, but there was no indication of a following AGS. S. P. Lee is the only other Kellar type hull. The ship is now Mexico's Antares (H-06).
AGS-32 Harkness Built by Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, Glasgow, Scotland for the U. S. as a large coastal survey ship equipped with soundboats, helicopter and spaces for a military detachment as well as civilian surveyors. AGS-29 and AGS-32 replaced AGS-15 and AGS-16. Shown MARAD Reserve Fleet Inventory (2/28/01) as "HARKNESS, ex T- AGS 32, departed SUNY Maritime on 02/ 28/ 01 enroute to Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA) where it will serve as a static training platform while CAPE BON completes its conversion to a school ship. It is still eligible to furnish parts to the RRF when required." .
AGS-33 Wilkes (See Silas Bent class at this site for more.) Sold to Tunisia, operates as survey vessel Khaireddine. (Link is to Silas Bent Class page for Bent, Kane, Wilkes and Wyman)
AGS-34 Wyman (See Silas Bent class at this site for more.) Transfer to Maritime Administration, awaiting scrapping. (Link is to Silas Bent Class page for Bent, Kane, Wilkes and Wyman)
AGS-35 Sgt. George Keathley (See more on this site for Keathley) (ex Acorn Knot, ex Alexander R. Niniger) C1-M-AV1
AGS-36 Coastal Crusader links to NVR page with very brief information, no history. C1-M-AV1 type converted to a missile range tracking ship by the Air Force and transferred to MSTS as T-AGM 16. Reclassified, but never served as an AGS. Sold in 1976. Similar to Keathley and Shoup. Probably an abortive effort for another stopgap survey vessel conversion.
AGS-37 Twin Falls links to NVR page with very brief information, no history. Bill McQueen, who served aboard the range ships, caught an error: "apparently another C1-M-AV1 type"that is not true. This vessel was ex-Twin Falls Victory -- a Victory (VC2) type. This ship did apparently undergo the same evolution as Coastal Crusader to become USNS Twin Falls (AGM 11) and then briefly see a reclassification as AGS-37. (Thanks to Ron Reeves for the original identity tip on the name for AGS-37.)
AGS-38 H. H. Hess links to "Slowbell's page on ship. See also TAGS-21 Home. Probably the finest conversion ever. I've sometimes wondered if further conversions of this class might have been better than some of the subsequent new construction, particularly AGS-39 and AGS-40, that were apparently launched with some real problems. Hess was maybe just too much. I never set eyes upon her, but when one of my colleagues showed me a photo of himself in a room I thought it was a good quality motel room. He even had a "balcony" with what looked like sliding glass doors! She was also fast, useful for getting to the area, but not needed on the job as the speed caused problems for sounding systems. She was also probably too expensive to operate. Shown MARAD Reserve Fleet Inventory (2/28/01) as being at Suisun Bay, CA "Hold spare equipt. Ret." indicating she may be around for some years.
AGS-39 Maury Launched 09/04/1987 and stricken 10/01/1994. Now the Golden Bear, training ship for the California Maritime Academy. CMA has a description with an interesting view of life aboard a training ship. Imagine "Each cruise the ship's medical staff handles over 300 sick bay calls" -- what a change from surveys!
AGS-40 Tanner Launched 02/28/1989 and stricken 10/01/1993. Shown MARAD Reserve Fleet Inventory (2/28/01) as DOT - Maine Maritime Academy State of Maine.
AGS-41-44   Speculation: Slots reserved for abortive follow-on ships of same type as previous hull number.
AGS-45 Waters  
AGS-46-49   Speculation: Slots reserved for abortive follow-on ships of same type as previous hull number.
AGS-50 Rehoboth (ex AVP 50) - The Navy Snipe has a page on USS Rehoboth with a good photo. AVP-30 (San Pablo) and AVP-50 (Rehoboth) converted from tenders to survey ships in 1948. See the Naval Historical Center Photo Collection Photo #: 80-G-413565 of both ships in 1949.

More Recent AGS

AGS-51 John McDonnell  Deactivated August 2010
AGS-52 Littlehales  Now NOAA's Thomas Jefferson (OS-222)
AGS-53-59   Reserved hull numbers?
AGS-60 Pathfinder  
AGS-61 Sumner  
AGS-62 Bowditch  
AGS-63 Henson  
AGS-64 Bruce C. Heezen  
AGS-65 Mary Sears Name announced November 1999

* See the website by Earl Adams with memories, photographs and information about the Bowditch (T-AGS 21), Dutton (T-AGS 22), Michelson (T-AGS 23), H. H. Hess (T-AGS 38) and the Navy Oceanographic Units assigned to them on the Ocean Survey Program (OSP). OSP was one of the large hydrographic/bathymetric survey programs managed by the U. S. Naval Oceanographic Office.

Icebreakers - Engaged In Survey As Collateral Function

All Navy icebreakers were transferred to the Coast Guard in 1965-1966 with Edisto (AGB-2) the first on 20 October 1965. Only the icebreakers could gather data from the surface in the very high latitudes. They were almost always tasked to gather bathymetry, oceanographic and some geophysical data as collateral duties.

AGB-1 Burton Island (ex AG-88) The Burton Island Association page has details.
AGB-2 Edisto (ex AG-89) USS Edisto reunion and news
AGB-3 Atka (ex Southwind (AG-90)) Atka's Association page describes Operation Deep Freeze 1966.
AGB-4 Glacier The USS Glacier Association page has photos and other material, including history.
AGB-5 Staten Island Ex USCGC Staten Island (WAGB-278), ex Lend Lease USSR Severny Veter (Northwind), ex USS Northwind (AGB-5)

References and Links:

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (available in many libraries or Superintendent of Documents)
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships on-line
Naval Vessel Register, Hull Types, Surveying Ships

Some of these ships may be found in Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1940-1945, particularly Minecraft, a part of the HyperWar Project, "A Hypertext History of the Second World War." Ships designated AGS 1 - AGS 14 are covered at HyperWar, Surveying Ships. HyperWar itself is a part of MetaLab at the University of North Carolina. The ibiblio Organization, "a collaboration of the center for the public domain and unc-ch [University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill]" (formerly MetaLab) has an increasing collection of historical and other material on-line. One of particular interest to people researching ships and Navy matters is World War II Resources. In my opinion this is an example of what a major part of the web should be -- a public resource with well organized, accurate information.

Navy Oceanographic Research Ship (AGOR) Numeric Listing
Silas Bent class
Ship Index

Copyright © 1999 by Ramon Jackson

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