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U.S. Coast Guard
Sea-going & Coastal Buoy Tenders, 1939-2000

A Historic Image Gallery


Tenders of the U.S. Coast Guard: 1939-1940 

The U.S. Lighthouse Service [hereafter USLHS], one of the oldest agencies of the federal government at that time, merged with the U.S. Coast Guard under presidential order in 1939.  Along with the Lighthouse Service bureaucracy and approximately 5,000 personnel came 39 lightships and a fleet of 64 vessels called lighthouse tenders.  An official Coast Guard report published in 1939 let Coast Guardsmen know what a "Lighthouse Tender" was: 

     "Lighthouse Tenders are used for general duty which consists mainly of servicing navigational aids and supplying necessities to lighthouses and lightships.  In order to perform these duties the vessel must be able to carry personnel, cargo, fuel and water.  In addition to the above, the vessel must have adequate deck space for working, storing and servicing buoys.  In order to lift the buoys with their chains and sinkers, the vessels are equipped with derricks of a capacity commensurate with the size and duties of the vessel.  In order that the buoys may be worked alongside, with reasonable safety to personnel, low freeboard is essential.  The large tenders are equipped with booms approximately fifty feet long with a working capacity of twenty tons.  The vessels are of medium speed, in general rather shoal draft, and are usually twin screw due to the draft limitation.  The initial stability is of necessity quite high, due to the requirement of handling heavy weights over the side, coupled with a low freeboard requirement.  The larger tenders are designed for open sea work, a smaller type being used for bays and sounds, and a still smaller type for protected waters.  Vessels are powered with steam, diesel, and diesel-electric drives."  ["Construction and Repair Topics Number 37," The Engineer's Digest: USCG Division of Engineering (September 1939),  p. 1.]

Each was manned by a full-time civilian crew of officers and men.  Through years of service, including during times of war, these Lighthouse Service tenders and their crews had developed into a proud and professional maritime service.  They were welcome additions to the Coast Guard and since that time, developing, building, laying, and tending maritime aids to navigation [hereafter ATON] has become a preeminent Coast Guard mission.

The Lighthouse Service constructed the majority of its tenders to work within specific geographic areas and each was therefore something of a "one-of-a-kind" vessel, although there were some standardized features built in to each of the larger tenders.  But overall standardization was the wave of the future and the parsimonious Coast Guard accepted a tender design based generally on the 177-foot Juniper, modified it, and prepared to construct an entire fleet of tenders based on this single new design.  With the clouds of war gathering on the horizon, national defense responsibilities became an important concern, as did the traditional duties of search and rescue [hereafter SAR] in addition to a tender's primary task of tending ATON.  The final design was a highly versatile, single-screw vessel capable of tending ATON, conducting SAR operations, towing, carrying cargo, escorting convoys, fighting fires, conducting weather patrols, and limited icebreaking.  In short, they were true Coast Guard cutters; vessels capable of carrying out the multitude of tasks assigned to the vessels of the nation's oldest sea-going service.

The Coast Guard continued with the Lighthouse Service's tradition of naming tenders after flora.  During the war when the Coast Guard transferred to the U.S. Navy and adopted Navy classifications, the Coast Guard grouped all of the buoy tenders, be they sea-going, coastal, inland, river or construction tenders under the classification of "WAGL."  By 1965, the service divided them by their area of operations and their capabilities.  Thus the seagoing tenders were designated "WLBs" and those tenders that operated in coastal waters became "WLMs."  These craft are the focus of this image gallery.  The remaining types of tenders were classified as: river tenders were "WLRs," inland tenders became "WLIs," and inland construction tenders were designated "WLICs."  

This is not meant to be a complete history of the sea-going and coastal buoy tender fleet of the U.S. Coast Guard.  Rather, this page is a visual history of the differing types of ships that fell under the designations "WLB" and "WLM" and the changes they have underwent from 1939-2000.  We hope you enjoy this historic image gallery.


Unless otherwise noted, the following are official U.S. Coast Guard images.

Photographs
[Click on the image to see in full-size]
Original photo caption; description (if any):
A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USLT Arbutus [WAGL-203]; "Lighthouse Tender 'Arbutus' Cont. 1057.  Mar. 25, 1933."; Photo No. 4375; 25 March 1933; photographer unknown.

Note the unique design characteristics of a tender of this period: the whaleback forecastle; the wooden strakes (known as "rub rails") along the hull beneath the buoy tending deck to protect the hull against strikes by buoys as they were raised to be serviced, the large bridge area providing a good view forward and to either side, the large housing structure aft of the stack on the second deck (quarters for a lighthouse district inspector--used when he sailed the waters of his district inspecting the light stations under his authority), and the brass US Lighthouse Service "lighthouse" emblem on the bow.  The Arbutus was built by Pusey & Jones Co., of Wilmington, Delaware and entered service in 1933.  She was decommissioned in 1967.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Walnut [WAGL-252]; "Cleveland District, Tender Walnut, Proceeding Downstream at Belle Isle, Direction of Camera Northwest, Date Dec. 12, 1939, Taken by Capt. Taylor."; no photo number.

The Walnut was one of three 175-foot "coastwise" tenders designed by the Lighthouse Service.  They were constructed entirely of steel and were originally fitted with triple-expansion steam engines.  Walnut was built by the Moore Dry Dock Company of Oakland, CA, at a cost of $389,746 and entered service in 1939.  She was based at Honolulu until 1954, then served out of Miami until 1967 and spent her last years of service based at San Pedro, CA.  She was decommissioned in July, 1982 and transferred to Honduras.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender No caption/photo number; date/photographer unknown.

Four 180-foot buoy tenders under construction at either the Marine Iron & Shipbuilding Corporation or the Zenith Dredge Company, both in Duluth, MN, circa 1943.  According to Robert Scheina, author of U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Craft of World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1982), p. 99: "The preliminary design of the 180-foot coastwise tenders was initiated by the USLHS prior to its amalgamation into the Coast Guard.  The final design was executed by Marine Iron & Shipbuilding Corp., Duluth, MN.  This design was intended to replace all large or Class 'A' tenders.  For the first time it added search-and-rescue features to the features designed for tending buoys or servicing lighthouses.  Following the amalgamation of the USLHS into the Coast Guard, ice-breaking features were added to the design.  The final design produced a single-screw ship with considerable slack bilges and a cutaway forefoot.  In addition, the deckhouse aft of the buoy deck was extended to the ship's side, increasing interior space.  The search-and-rescue requirement caused a reduction in the beam-to-length ratio, and also gave the ship finer lines at the bow and stern."  All except Ironwood (WAGL/WLB-297) were constructed by these two yards.  Ironwood was constructed at the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay, MD.

Some changes were made to the original design and ultimately three different classes of these 180-foot tenders were constructed: the "A" or "Cactus" class, "B" or "Mesquite" class, and "C" or "Iris" class.  Each tender was 180-feet in length, 37-feet in width, and had a maximum draft of 14-feet and displaced 935 tons.  They were single-screw vessels and their powerplant was diesel-electric and depending upon the class were capable of making a top speed of either 13 or 14 knots.  Initially the complement of each consisted of 5 officers and 42 crewmen.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Sorrel [WAGL-296; WLB-296]; no caption/photo number; date/photographer unknown.

The Sorrel was one of thirteen "A" Class 180-foot tenders constructed for the Coast Guard.  She was commissioned in 1943.  The "A" class tenders may be differentiated from the other two classes of 180-foot tenders by their unique "A" frame main boom support.  Sorrel saw service on the Great Lakes, in the Gulf of Mexico, and in the Atlantic.  She also served with the Greenland Patrol when based out of Boston and was used for icebreaking and patrol duties in the waters off Greenland.  Light icebreaking capability was one of the novel design features built in to these new tenders.  The range of the "A" Class tenders, at their economic cruising speed of 8.3 knots, was 17,000 miles.

The Sorrel was homeported in Boston and served on the Greenland Patrol during the war, operating out of Argentia.  In 1954 she transferred to Sitka, AK, where she was based until 1965 when she transferred to Seward.  From 1973 to 1976 she was stationed at Cordova.  From 1976 to 1982 she underwent SLEP (see Madrona gallery below for details) and from 1982 until her decommissioning in 1996, she was stationed at Governor's Island.  During her career, in addition to ATON work, she freed vessels trapped in ice, assisted vessels in distress, provided relief after the 1958 earthquake at Lituya Bay and Yakutat Bay, assisted after a DC-7 ditched near Biorka Island, fought fires, medevaced crewmen from merchant vessels, and served as an icebreaker. 

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Mesquite [WAGL-305; WLB-305]; no caption/photo number; 9 December 1943; photographer unknown.

The Mesquite was one of six "B" Class 180-foot tenders constructed for the Coast Guard.  The differences from the "A" Class tenders centered around the boom and the deckhouse.  Modifications to the deckhouse included moving the bridge hatches, the commanding officer's quarters, and the radio room.  Also, the engine exhaust was vented through the hull at the waterline rather than through a traditional stack in an effort to save topside weight.  The latter modification proved to be problematic, however, and each had a traditional stack installed soon after the end of the war when their wartime armament was removed.  Additional differences between the "A" and "B" classes included the removal of the "A" frame buoy hoist support and in its place were added double topping lifts mounted under the bridge wings. Also, the size of the fuel tanks was reduced, consequently reducing the tenders' range, which was 9,000 miles at 9 knots.

The Mesquite was commissioned in 1943 and saw service in both the Atlantic and Pacific, including the waters of the Philippine Islands, during the war.  From 1947 until her loss due to grounding in 1989 she served on the Great Lakes.  During her career, in addition to her ATON duties, she assisted vessels in distress,  fought fires, medevaced crewmen from merchant vessels, and served as an icebreaker. 

This photo provides an excellent view of the armament added to the tenders for service in the war.  This included depth charge tracks off the stern, a 3"/50 caliber dual purpose main battery, up to four single-mount 20mm anti-aircraft cannons, and .50 caliber machine guns.  Some were fitted with mousetraps, K-guns, sonar and radar as well.  These tenders were capable of escorting convoys, tending anti-submarine nets, laying mines, salvage operations, weather patrols, and SAR operations in addition to their primary duty of tending ATON.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Planetree [WAGL-307; WLB-307]; no caption/photo number; date/photographer unknown.

The Planetree was a "B" Class 180-foot tender that was commissioned in 1943.  During the war she served with the 7th Fleet and aided in the construction of the LORAN stations on Baker, Gardner, and Atafu Islands.  After the war she was based at Pearl Harbor until 1947, was laid up due to a shortage of personnel until 1949, and was then based at Guam until 1954.  From 1954 until 1974 she was stationed in Honolulu and then went to Juneau and later Ketchikan.  During her career, she serviced ATON all across the Pacific, searched for the missing Pan American Flight 944, assisted or towed disabled vessels, performed medevacs, helped to repair the station on French Frigate Shoals after the station was damaged during a storm in 1969 and survived a storm herself off Hawaii in January 1983.

She underwent an "austere renovation" in 1991 (see Basswood gallery below for details) and was decommissioned in 1999.  She is in storage with the Reserve Fleet at Suisun Bay, CA.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Orchid [WAGL-240]; no caption; Photo No. 3330-11; 1 March 1946; "3rd Naval District, Official Coast Guard Picture."

The tender Orchid was one of eight "Manzanita" Class 190-foot tenders that entered service in 1908.  They were built by the New York Shipbuilding Company of Camden, NJ.  Although still in her war-time paint scheme, her armament has been removed.  During the war she carried a single 3"/23 caliber main battery, two 20mm anti-aircraft cannons, two depth charge tracks, a SO-1 radar and a WEA-2 sonar.

She was decommissioned and transferred to the Philippine Government in 1946.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Sweetgum [WAGL-309; WLB-309]; "Vessel after removal of armament."; Photo No. 917; 6 February 1946; photo by Kendall.

The Sweetgum, a "B" Class 180-foot tender, entered service in 1943 and served on the Great Lakes and the 7th District during the war.  After the war, she continued to serve in the 7th District and was based at Mayport.  She had a long and remarkable career during her term of service that included much more than maintaining ATON.  She helped to evacuate the Jacksonville, Florida area during a hurricane in 1955 and provided disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricanes Hugo in 1994, Opal in 1995, Danny in 1997, Earl and Georges in 1998, and Bret in 1999.  Additionally, she assessed the potential for oil spill pollution from tankers sunk off the coast during World War II, conducted law enforcement boardings and seizures, carried out SAR operations, broke ice on the Hudson, and recovered debris from the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.  For her traditional duties while stationed in Mayport, the Sweetgum was responsible for maintaining 333 buoys and structures from Kings Bay to the Bahamas.  She underwent SLEP (see Madrona gallery below for details) from 1990 through 1992 and was then based at Mobile, AL.  

She was decommissioned in February, 2002.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Mistletoe [WAGL-237; WLM-237]; "Cutter 'Mistletoe' Hampton Roads."; Photo Rel. No. 5109; 3 September 1947; photo by Weford.

Former lighthouse service tenders continued in operation as Coast Guard cutters after the war.  Although these vessels were not originally built to conduct Coast Guard duties such as weather patrols and SAR operations, they proved to be adaptable to those missions nonetheless and served well as cutters.  The Mistletoe remained in service until September 1968.  She was powered by two triple-expansion steam engines and could reach a top speed of 11 knots.  She served out of Portsmouth, VA, during her Coast Guard career.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Mariposa [WAGL-397; WLB-397]; no caption/photo number; date/photographer unknown.

The Mariposa was one of twenty "C" Class 180-foot tenders that were constructed for the Coast Guard.  Differences between the "B" and "C" class tenders included an improved propulsion system that increased the shaft horsepower from 1,000 to 1,200.  They also had added fuel capacity and vented their exhaust through a traditional stack.  The range of the "C" Class tenders, at their economic cruising speed of 8.3 knots, was 17,000 miles.

The Mariposa entered service in 1944 and was homeported in St. George, Staten Island until 1954.  She then transferred to New London.  After a "major renovation" (see Sassafras gallery below for more information) in 1973-1974, she transferred to Detroit, MI.  During her long career she broke ice in the Hudson River, assisted vessels in distress, recovered debris and bodies from the waters off Long Island after the crash of an Eastern Airlines DC-7 in 1965, and assisted with flood relief, in addition to her ATON duties. 

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Sweetbrier [WAGL-405; WLB-405]; no caption/photo number; 22 January 1954; photographer unknown.

During the Korean War, some tenders had additional armament installed.  This photo provides a good view of that added armament which included two depth charge tracks off the stern, a single 3"/50 caliber main battery behind the stack, two 20-mm single mount cannons mounted above the bridge, and two "mousetrap" anti-submarine depth charge launchers on the forecastle.

The Sweetbrier, a "C" Class 180-foot tender, was commissioned in 1944 and saw service in the waters off California, Hawaii and Alaska during her Coast Guard career.  During that time she broke ice, assisted vessels in distress, rescued survivors and assisted after aircraft crashes, carried out medical evacuations off merchant ships, as well as traditional ATON work.  She underwent a "major renovation" (see Sassafras gallery below for details) at the Coast Guard Yard from 1974-1975.

She was decommissioned in 2001 and was transferred to Ghana.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender

USCGC Sundew [WAGL-404; WLB-404]; no caption; Photo No. 032354-21, 23 March 1954; photographer unknown--Ninth CG District (Cleveland) photo.

The Sundew, a "C" Class 180-foot tender, spent her career on the Great Lakes.  She broke ice, conducted SAR operations, serviced ATON and, while on TDY in the Caribbean during the winter of 1987-1988, conducted law enforcement patrols.  She also conducted a number of scientific missions: she assisted monitoring the Zebra Mussel migration in Lake Superior, conducted water and bottom sampling surveys, monitored and reported weather information to the National Weather Service, and assisted NOAA in maintaining weather collection buoys on Lake Superior.  She underwent a "major renovation" (see Sassafras gallery below for details) at the Coast Guard Yard from 1977-1978.

She is scheduled to be decommissioned in the near future.

A photo of the Bittersweet USCGC Bittersweet (WAGL-389; WLB-389); no caption/photo number; 20 April 1954; photographer unknown.

The Bittersweet, a "C" Class tender was built by the Zenith Dredge Company in Duluth, Minnesota.  She was launched on 11 November 1943 and entered commissioned service on 11 May 1944.  Through 1976 she was stationed in Alaskan waters, serving out of Kodiak and Ketchikan.  She participated in countless search and rescue cases, fought fires, enforced fishing laws, and serviced aids to navigation.

She underwent a major renovation in 1976 and was then ordered to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, which remained her home-port until she was decommissioned.  Here she assisted following the grounding of the tanker SS Argo Merchant in December 1976; recovered marijuana as evidence from the Traveller III off Maine in 1978; assisted in the cleanup operations off Maine following the grounding of the Christian Rienauer in November, 1981; and participated in the International Ice Patrol in May, 1987, where she collected hydrographic and drift buoy data off the Grand Banks using mobile laboratory.

The Bittersweet was decommissioned on 18 August 1997 and was given to Estonia.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Storis [WAGL-38; WAG-38; WAGB-38; WMEC-38]; "U.S. Coast Guard utility icebreaker STORIS during the run for a short-cut Northwest Passage prepares to send helicopters aloft on ice reconnaissance before proceeding eastward through Amundsen Gulf to Dolphin and Union Straits, Canadian Northwest Territory (July 23, 1957).  Arctic ice conditions were reported worst in many years at this time of year.  The STORIS with Coast Guard ships SPAR and BRAMBLE on September 6, 1957, became the first deep draft vessels to complete transit of Ballot Strait from west to east.  (The Canadian icebreaker LABRADOR made the first passage from east to west on August 24th.)  This historical discovery realized a centuries-old dream of a short-cut Northwest Passage for deep draft tin-skinned cargo vessels to traverse between the Pacific and the Atlantic.  Homeport of the STORIS is at Juneau, Alaska."; no photo number; 12 September 1957; photographer unknown.

Although modeled after the 180s, Storis, was in fact a larger tender.  She was originally designed as a supply ship for Allied bases in Greenland.  Since that time she has served in a variety of roles and as mentioned above taken part in a number of historic ventures.  As of 2000, she was designated as a medium endurance cutter and her hull numbers were painted in gold in honor of being the oldest cutter in the fleet.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Madrona [WAGL-302; WLB-302]; no caption/photo number; date/photographer unknown.

The Madrona, a "A" class 180-foot tender, has been stationed in Miami and Portsmouth.  Madrona has searched for mines, escorted convoys in the Caribbean assisted vessels in distress, conducted SAR operations, fought fires, towed disabled vessels, provided assistance to Portsmouth after hurricane Donna in 1960, broken ice in the Chesapeake and cleared a path through the ice on the Potomac River after the crash of an Air Florida flight in January 1982, all in addition to her ATON duties.  She underwent a modernization program known as SLEP: Service-Life Extension Program at the Coast Guard Yard from 1984-1989.  

SLEP was a renovation program conducted on the following 180s: Sorrel, Gentian, Cowslip, Conifer, Madrona, Laurel, Papaw, Sweetgum, and Buttonwood.  SLEP included major upgrades to the propulsion switchboard (it was updated to a computer programmable control system), renovation of the berthing areas which included modifications to accommodate female enlisted personnel, modification of the interior compartments of the vessel to improve damage control integrity, reconfiguration of the pilot house, and major upgrades to the electrical systems.  The boom system was also changed from electric to hydraulic.  SLEP took place from 1983-1989 and 1990-1992.

When Madrona's renovation was complete she was transferred to Charleston, SC.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Papaw [WAGL-308; WLB-308]; no caption/photo number; 13 March 1959; photographer unknown.

The Papaw was a "B" class 180-foot tender that was stationed in Astoria, Miami and Charleston during her career.  Here is a good overhead shot that shows the general deck layout of a 180-foot tender.  In addition to carrying out ATON duties, she assisted in the hurricane evacuations in 1949, 1952, and 1954, fought fires, assisted vessels in distress, conducted SAR operations, transported NOMAD (the first atomic-powered weather buoy), and rescued refugees, among other accomplishments.  She underwent SLEP at the Coast Guard Yard in 1991 (see Madrona gallery above for details).

She was decommissioned in 1999 and is in storage at the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Hornbeam [WAGL-394; WLB-394]; "U.S. Coast Guard buoy tender HORNBEAM (WAGL-394; WLB-394) approaching buoy off Nantucket.  (Lighted bell buoy)."; Photo No. CPI-04-22-63 (A); 22 April 1963; photo by PHC Lougher.

The Hornbeam has been stationed at Woods Hole and Cape May during her career.  She has participated in numerous SAR operations, including assisting after the Andrea Doria and Stockholm collided in 1956, temporarily assumed duties on the Nantucket light station in 1954, assisted in the shipping quarantine during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, freed the research ship Gosnold from the ice near Woods Hole in 1968, escorted the USS Atka, which was taking on water, to safety in 1965, assisted her sister cutter Spar after the latter went aground in 1961, among other notable incidents.  The Hornbeam underwent a "major renovation" at the Coast Guard Yard in 1977 (see Sassafras gallery below for details).

She was decommissioned on 30 September 1999 and put up for sale.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Evergreen [WAGL-292; WAGO-295; WLB-295; WMEC-295]; "180-ft. U.S. Coast Guard Cutter EVERGREEN (WAGO-295), oceanographic vessel for the International Ice Patrol and other missions, shown here in new white paint coat.  The cutter was formerly black."; Photo No. 1CGD1025631; 25 October 1963; photo by ENS John C. Goodman, USCGR.

The Evergreen, first commissioned in 1942, saw a very active and varied career.  She served as a buoy tender until 1963, then as noted in the caption listed above she sailed as an oceanographic vessel until 1982 (she received extensive modifications in 1972-73 to fulfill her new scientific missions) and finished her Coast Guard career as a medium endurance cutter.

She was decommissioned in 1990 and was sunk by the US Navy as a target two years later.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Arbutus [WAGL-203; WLM-203]; photo donated Robert Withers; photo taken in the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1965.

The Arbutus, shown prior to launching in the first photo of this gallery, entered service with the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1933.  She was 174-feet, 7-inches in length and displaced 997 tons.  She was powered by two triple-expansion steam engines that were capable of driving her twin screws to a top speed of 11.3 knots.

After World War II, she was stationed at St. George, Staten Island, NY until she was decommissioned in 1967 and sold in 1969.  During her career, in addition to her traditional ATON duties, she tended anti-submarine nets during World War II, assisted the grounded yacht Hurricane in 1950, towed the CGB-70017 in 1956 and recovered bodies and debris from an Eastern Airlines DC-7 crash off Long Island in 1966.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Basswood [WAGL-388; WLB-388]; "WORKING A BUOY--The Coast Guard Cutter Basswood works a buoy as busy Vietnamese fishermen travel to open sea and their fishing grounds from Vung Tau harbor.  The cutter battled monsoon weather for a 30-day tour to establish and reservice sea aids-to-navigation dotting the 1,000 mile South Vietnamese Coastline."; Photo No. VN5-68-8, Commander Coast Guard Squadron One, Vietnam photo; 1968; photo by JO2 David Jimenez.  Four Coast Guard buoy tenders saw service in Vietnam during the conflict: Basswood, Blackhaw, Ironwood, and Planetree

Beyond her traditional ATON duties, carried out throughout the Pacific, Basswood paid numerous annual visits to Jarvis, Baker, and Howland islands in support of title and sovereignty claims for the U.S.  She also patrolled fishing tournaments, assisted many disabled vessels, searched for missing aircraft, and as noted above served in Vietnam.  

In 1974 she underwent an "austere renovation" and received new engines as well.  Four 180-foot tenders went through this "austere renovation" program: Planetree, Mallow, Iris, and Basswood between 1974-1975.  Modifications and improvements included the removal and overhaul of the propulsion generators, main motor, boom system, and other buoy deck components and the renovation of the heads, berthing, and mess areas. 

The Basswood was decommissioned and sold in 1998.

A photo of the WLB Juniper USCGC Juniper [WAGL-224; WLM-224]; no caption/photo number; date/photographer unknown.

The Juniper, originally designed by the USLHS, was launched after that Service was amalgamated with the USCG.  It was the first attempt by the USLHS to design an all-purpose, ocean-going tender and she became the prototype for the 180-foot tenders, although there are a number of differences in their respective designs.  She was 177-feet in length and displaced 790 tons.  Her twin screws were driven by a diesel-electric drive and she was capable of making a top speed of 12.5 knots.

The Juniper was assigned to St. Petersburg, FL, for her entire Coast Guard career.  Here in the 7th District she tended ATON, assisted vessels in distress, recovered bodies after the crash of a USAF B-29 near Cedar Keys in 1952, searched for survivors after the crash of National Flight 470 in 1953, recovered a downed USCG HUS1-G helicopter in 1962 and an HH-52A helicopter in 1969, and escorted NASA's barge Promise on three voyages in the early 1960's as well.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Sassafras [WAGL-401; WLB-401]; no caption; Photo No. TRACEN 1023675, USCG Training Center Cape May photo; 23 October 1967; photographer unknown.

The Sassafras was commissioned in 1944 and spent the war years in the Western Pacific carrying out ATON duties.  After the war, the tender spent a year homeported at San Francisco and a year at Honolulu before changing oceans to Cape May, where she was stationed until 1977.  

In 1978 she underwent a "major renovation" at the Coast Guard Yard.  The "major renovation" program was conducted on the following 180-foot tenders between 1974-1979: Sedge, Bramble, Ironwood, Mariposa, Acacia, Sweetbrier, Hornbeam, Spar Sassafras, Sundew, Firebush, and Woodrush.  This renovation involved the complete removal and overhaul of all mechanical systems including the main engines and the propulsion switchboard.  A bow thruster was also added.  The tenders were then recabled, repiped, and all habitability spaces were renovated and the forward hold was redesigned to increase berthing space.

When the renovation was completed Sassafras was stationed at Governors Island for three years before sailing back to the Pacific where she was stationed at Honolulu.  Beyond carrying out her ATON duties, Sassafras assisted many vessels in distress, including the cutter Eastwind after the latter was severely damaged in a collision in 1949.  She participated in a number of SAR cases, including recovering debris from United Airlines Flight 811 off Hawaii in 1989 as well as making numerous seizures for fisheries violations. 

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Spar [WAGL-403; WLB-403]; no caption; Photo No. 1CGD-10-07-68 (01); 7 October 1968; photographer unknown.

The Spar, commissioned in 1944, was homeported in Boston and assigned to the First Naval District during World War II.  In 1946, she transferred to Woods Hole until 1951.  From 1951 until 1976 she was stationed at Bristol, RI.  After undergoing a "major renovation" (see Sassafras gallery above for details) at the Coast Guard Yard in 1976, she was stationed at South Portland, ME.  She carried out ATON, SAR and icebreaking duties throughout her long career as well as sailing in a historic voyage in which Spar, along with Storis and Bramble, circumnavigated the North American continent via the Panama Canal and the Northwest Passage in 1957.  

She was decommissioned in 1997.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC White Bush [YF-339; WAGL-542; WLM-542]; "USCGC WHITE BUSH, a 133-foot coastal buoy [tender] underway off the Oregon coast."; Photo No. G-BPA-09-2769 (03); September 1969; photo by PH3 Mafter.

The White Bush, commissioned in Coast Guard service in 1947, was one of eight Navy YF 257 class tenders transferred to the Coast Guard.  Built entirely of steel, these were 132-foot vessels powered by two diesels that drove twin screws to a maximum speed of 10.5 knots.  They first entered naval service between 1943-1944.  The White Bush was stationed at Astoria during her Coast Guard career and in addition to her ATON duties she fought fires, conducted SAR operations, repaired cables to Tillamook Rock and Destruction Island, patrolled a salmon derby and assisted with flood relief in the Vancouver-Longview area in 1961.

She was decommissioned on 16 September 1985.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender

USCGC Fir [WAGL-212; WLM-212); no caption; Photo No. 091674 (03); 16 September 1974; photo by Jim Davis.

The Fir was one of three 175-foot "coastwise" tenders designed by the Lighthouse Service.  They were constructed entirely of steel and were originally fitted with triple-expansion steam engines.  The Fir was built by the Moore Dry Dock Company of Oakland, CA.  She was stationed at Seattle for her entire career except for a year spent at Long Beach, CA.  She was responsible for servicing 140 buoys, lighthouses and daymarkers in Puget Sound, San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan De Fuca and the Washington and Oregon coasts.

The Fir and her sister tenders had their original triple-expansion steam engines removed and replaced with diesel engines in the 1950's.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Walnut [WAGL-252; WLM-252]; "USCGC WALNUT leaving Long Beach for Honduras."; no photo number; June, 1982; photo by PA3 Tony Chilelli.

The Walnut, in addition to carrying out ATON duties, saw considerable action in other venues, including fighting fires, assisting vessels in distress, recovering US Air Force drones, escorting a NASA barge that carried a stage of a Saturn V rocket, conducted SAR missions, and assisted in setting NOAA weather buoys.

Compare to the 1939 photo shown above.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Cactus [WAGL-270; WLB-270]; no caption; Photo No. 1CGD-04-01069 (05); April 1969; photo by PHC Ken Mather. 

The Cactus, sporting a white paint scheme, served out of Boston from 1942 through 1967 and ended her Coast Guard career being stationed at Bristol, RI.  In addition to her ATON duties, in 1957 she moved a 450-foot Norwegian freighter from a burning pier to safety and then returned to fight the fire.  She also, over the years, assisting many vessels in distress, including fishing vessels, sailing vessels, and merchant ships.

She was decommissioned in 1971 and sold two years later.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Firebush [WAGL-393; WLB-393]; no caption; Photo No. 05-15-69 (01); 15 May 1969; photo by CWO J. Lehman.  [Photo taken off New York.]

The Firebush, commissioned in 1944, spent the immediate post-war years in "reserve" commission status due to a shortage of personnel.  From 1948 through 1978 she was stationed at St. George Island, NY, and carried out ATON and icebreaking duties.  She also served as a temporary relief vessel on lightship station Ambrose in 1950, assisted in the salvage of a ditched C-45 in 1951, fought fires, transported the Continental frigate Philadelphia from New York to Washington, DC after the latter was raised from Lake Champlain (it is now on display in the Smithsonian's Museum of American History), assisted icebound vessels and vessels in distress, and participated in Operation Brimfrost 87, a military exercise to defend a port against sabotage, after transferring homeport to Kodiak, AK once she completed a "major renovation" (see Sassafras gallery above for details) at the Coast Guard Yard between 1978-1979.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Fir [WAGL-212; WLB-212];  no caption/photo number; date/photographer unknown.

The Fir sports her new gold hull numbers, signifying that, as of 1988, she was the oldest commissioned cutter in the Coast Guard fleet.  In addition to her ATON duties, in 1962 she recovered a Coast Guard HO4S helicopter that had crash landed, in 1966 she assisted in the recovery of a downed USAF T-34 and assisted in the search for survivors following a crash of a US Navy aircraft in the Guemes Channel in 1963.  She also assisted a number of vessels in distress, patrolled yacht races and regattas, and helped fight a fire at the Todd Shipyard in Seattle, WA.

She was decommissioned on 1 October 1991 after fifty-one years of distinguished service.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Ironwood [WAGL-297; WLB-297]; "Juneau, AK (Summer, 1996)--The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Ironwood, with assistance from a Coast Guard helicopter, offload equipment for maintanance [sic] on Eldred Rock Lighthouse."; Photo No. 969610-J-0170A-001 (FR); 10 June 1996; photo by LTJG Laiman B. Miller.

The buoy tender fleet has always worked closely with other Coast Guard assets in training, preparing for and conducting defense and SAR operations as well as law enforcement and environmental protection duties, all in addition to their traditional ATON work, for which the Ironwood receives some help here from a Coast Guard HH-60.  Adaptability and interoperability have always been the hallmark of all classes of Coast Guard assets.  

During the 1980's and 1990's, one of the buoy tenders' planned national defense functions was to support minesweeping operations.  Their stability and large buoy decks made excellent platforms for the US Navy's explosive ordnance disposal teams who destroyed mines discovered by the minesweepers.  It was also suggested that these tenders operate as "formidable low-investment" mine-hunters themselves simply by adding side-scan sonar and other towed mine-hunting arrays.  Indeed, in 1987, the Atlantic Area commander called the 180-foot tenders "one of the most versatile platforms we have."  Not bad for a forty-plus year old class of vessel!  

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Red Birch [WLM-687]; no caption/photo number; date/photographer unknown.

The Red Birch, commissioned in 1965, was stationed at San Francisco until 1976.  During that time she conducted ATON duties.  In addition, in 1965 she escorted two merchant ships after they collided and recovered a downed helicopter outside of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1970.  She transferred to Baltimore in 1976 and again carried on ATON and light icebreaking duties.  She was decommissioned in 1998 and transferred to Argentina.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Ironwood  [WAGL-297; WLB-297]; "Kodiak, Alaska (Oct. 6)--After 57-years of service, three wars, eight homeports and more than a half-million nautical miles past the propeller, the Coast Guard Cutter Ironwood will be retired from military service.  The 180-foot "B" Class (also known as Mesquite class) buoy tender will be decommissioned during a ceremony at the Northern lights Recreational Facility at the Integrated Support Command Kodiak, Alaska, at 10:30 a.m. today.  The Ironwood was commissioned on Oct. 11, 1943, primarily to conduct aids to navigation duties for the Coast Guard.  It has been stationed in Boston, San Francisco, Monterey, Calif., Guam, Honolulu, Homer, Adak, and Kodiak.  The cutter served in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam War, and is the only United States ship left on active duty awarded the Korean Service Medal.  It is the second oldest commissioned cutter in service behind the Coast Guard cutter Storis.  It also holds the distinction of being the only 180-foot buoy tender built at the Coast Guard Yard at Baltimore, Md."; Photo No. 001006-K-6130A-501 (FR); 6 October 2000; photo by PA1 Keith Alholm.

As the new millennium dawned, the 180-foot tenders began to leave active service, most after well over fifty years of duty.  Their replacements, the Juniper Class cutters, incorporated all of the advancements made and lessons learned during the 180-foot tenders' terms of service, making the new tenders "always ready" to carry on a tradition established and ably maintained by the Coast Guard's tender fleet since 1939.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Oak [WLB-211]; "MARINETTE, Wis. (Jan 26)--The Coast Guard Cutter Oak (WLB 211) hits the icy waters of the Great Lakes for the first time.  The cutter is the 11th of the Juniper Class Seagoing Buoy Tenders to be launched at the Marinette Marine Facility in Marinette, Wis.  The Oak was launched on Jan. 26, 2002.  The wife of U.S. Representative Henry Brown of South Carolina was the ship's sponsor.  Cutter Oak will replace the Cutter Madronna in Charleston, S.C. sometime in the late fall of 2002.  Eight of the planned 16 Juniper Class cutters are already in service through out the Coast Guard."; Photo No. 020126-C-0368R-501 (FR); 26 February 2002; photo by PA2 Paul Roszkowski.

The Coast Guard commissioned the lead ship in the 225-foot Juniper Class, USCGC Juniper [WLB 201], in the summer of 1996.  The Coast Guard's buoy tender replacement project replaced the original fleet of 26 180-foot tenders and the eleven tenders classed as "WLMs" (a total of 37 tenders) with 16 Juniper Class WLB-225s and 14 Keeper Class WLM-175s (total 30 ships).  The 225's twin diesel engine propulsion system supplies the speed and maneuverability necessary to tend coastal and off-shore buoys in exposed locations. Perhaps the most important advance is the use of a new Dynamic Positioning System (DPS). DPS uses a Differential Global Positioning System to fix positions. Using this technology, the crews are able to maintain the vessel's position within a 10-meter circle in winds of up to 30 knots and waves of up to 8 feet.

A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Elm [WLB-204]; "Yorktown, VA (July 16)-A 3/4 profile of the CGC Elm, homeported out of Atlantic Beach, NC.  The Elm was one of the vessels that participated in Coast Guard Missions Day at Reserve Training Center Yorktown.  The purpose of Coast Guard Missions Day is to raise the visibility of the Coast Guard by providing a one-day, missions-intensive and hands-on Coast Guard experience to staff level employees of the U.S. Congress and Administration."; Photo No. 990716-I-5809B-523 (FR); 16 July 1999; photo by PA1 Telfair H. Brown. 
A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Joshua Appleby  [WLM-556]; "The Coast Guard Cutter Joshua Appleby, a coastal buoy tender.  The new 175-foot Keeper Class Coastal Class Buoy Tender represent the new wave in buoy tending.  They are the first Coast Guard cutters equipped with Z-Drive propulsion units instead of the standard propeller and rudder configuration.  They are designed to independently rotate 360 degrees.  Combined with a thruster in the bow, they give the Keeper-class cutters unmatched maneuverability.  With state-of-the-art electronics and navigation systems including Dynamic Positioning System (DPS) which uses a Differential Global Positioning System, and electronic chart displays--these buoy tenders maneuver and position aids more accurately and efficiently with fewer crew.  Other improvements have allowed the Coast Guard to decrease its crew from 24-34 on current vessels of similar type to 18 on the Keeper Class."; Photo No. 000000-C-7777A-002; no date (photo submitted 18 February 2000); photographer unknown.
A photo of a Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Katherine Walker [WLM-552]; "The CGC Katherine Walker breaks ice on the Hudson River."; Photo No. 000222-N-8023L-003; 22 February 2000; photo by PA3 Robert Lanier.

The Coast Guard elected to name the new 175-foot tenders after famous personages of the Lighthouse Service, breaking a tradition that spanned more than one hundred years of naming tenders after flora.  Although classified as buoy tenders, each new Keeper Class tender is capable of conducting a variety of missions, including icebreaking as shown here.  Both the Keeper Class and the Juniper Class have conducted SAR and law enforcement operations as well.


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Last Modified 10/28/2014