We hope that you enjoy this gallery of historic photographs of the Coast Guard cutter Spencer (WPG / WHEC-36).
Unless otherwise noted, the following are official U.S. Coast Guard images.
"Navy Yard N.Y. 5-19-37. U.S.C.G. John C. Spencer."; 19 May 1937; Photo No. F1107.C94; photographer unknown.
Here is an excellent photo of John C. Spencer, just prior to her name being shortened to Spencer. Her peace-time armament consisted of two 5-inch 51 caliber and two 6-pound signal guns, all mounted forward. The Hamilton, Bibb, Duane, Spencer and Taney originally carried a seaplane and associated derricks on the after deck. Once they were assigned as convoy escorts the amphibians were removed to make room for depth charge tracks, "Y" guns, and an additional 5-inch 51 caliber gun. Interestingly, the aviation booms were not removed. Apparently Campbell and Ingham did not carry aircraft
"Gunnery exercise."; circa 1940; Photo No. 2414; photo was provided through the courtesy of Merle Harbourt, USCG (Ret.), a Spencer crewman, who served on board her during the 1939-1940 period.
"Dec '40, Rolling a bit; 3/50s and 'Y' guns recently installed."; December, 1940; Photo No. 123S; photo was provided through the courtesy of Merle Harbourt, USCG (Ret.), a Spencer crewman, who served on board her during the 1939-1940 period.
"Pan Am Clipper flies over Spencer."; 1940; Photo No. 617; photo was provided through the courtesy of Merle Harbourt, USCG (Ret.), a Spencer crewman, who served on board her during the 1939-1940 period.
No caption; Photo No. 2337-42 NYBOS; 1 June 1942; photographer unknown.
Spencer transferred to Navy operational control on 11 September 1941 and began duty as a convoy escort. She sailed as the flagship of the only US-led convoy escort group on the North Atlantic, Ocean Escort Group A-3. Although Spencer was commanded by a Coast Guard officer, Commander Harold S. Berdine, and her crew was entirely Coast Guard, the Escort Group Commander, a US Navy officer, Captain Paul R. Heineman, USN, flew his flag on board Spencer. Escort Group A-3 was a motley collection of Coast Guard cutters, US Navy destroyers, and British and Canadian corvettes.
No caption; Photo No. 2338-42 NYBOS; 1 June 1942; photographer unknown.
Spencer saw considerable action on the North Atlantic in concert with her sister Secretary Class cutters. While escorting east-bound Convoy HX-233, she located the submerged U-175 attempting to infiltrate the convoy. She then blew it to the surface with depth charges and in concert with Duane, fired upon it. The U-boat's crew abandoned their submarine and a boarding party from Spencer actually got on board before the U-boat sank. The Spencer and Duane then rescued the surviving German crew.
After the war, the US Navy credited Spencer with sinking the U-225 on 21 February 1943 although that sinking was later disallowed. Recent research has suggested that she did sink the U-529 on 22 February 1943 although she did not receive official credit for the sinking.
"END OF A VOYAGE: Safe in a United Nations port, after shepherding a convoy across the Atlantic during the War, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter SPENCER lies peacefully at anchor against the hour when it would have to begin the return trip. Coast Guard Cutters such as this did splendid service in the submarine infested sealanes."; Photo No. 1004; November, 1942 (?); photographer unknown.
Captain C. S. "Mike" Hall, on board Spencer during the attack on the U-175 (in fact he boarded the U-175 along with fellow crewman Ross P. Bullard--the first Americans to board an enemy warship underway at sea since the War of 1812), described the Secretary Class cutters as:
"We were blessed with the greatest hull form and type of construction that was available in U.S. shipyards at that time. In my opinion, the hulls should have never been discarded. . .when Spencer received relatively inexperienced personnel from shore for one voyage training, and then as replacements for the older hands, H.S. Berdine kept on board those old hands who wished to stay and transferred the newer personnel, now trained. Of course this resulted in a plethora of experienced personnel retained. Some of my shipmates of that era came on board in 1939-40 spent an entire enlistment, plus mandatory extension, and when WWII ended were CPO's and returned to civilian life. . ."
He ended by noting, and most veterans would agree, that "the only things I suffered from were inadequate liberty ashore and excessive patriotism."
COAST GUARD CUTTER SINKS SUB: Coast Guardsmen on the deck of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter SPENCER watch the explosion of a depth charge which blasted a Nazi U-boat's hope of breaking into the center of a large convoy. The depth charge tossed from the 327-foot cutter blew the submarine to the surface, where it was engaged by Coast Guardsmen. Ships of the convoy may be seen in the background."; 17 April 1943; Photo No. 1517; photo by Jack January, USCGR.
Patrolling ahead of Convoy HX-233 on 17 April 1943, Spencer detected on sonar the submerged U-175 attempting to slip into the van of the convoy. The Spencer then delivered this devastating depth charge attack that brought the U-175 to the surface.
"Effect of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter SPENCER'S fire are visible in this closeup shot of the U-Boat, taken as the battle raged. The Nazi standing by the stanchion amidships disappeared a moment after this picture was taken by a Coast Guard photographer. The U-boat had been trying to sneak into the center of the convoy."; 17 April 1943; Photo No. 1512; photo by Jack January, USCGR.
The "Nazi" mentioned in the above caption was probably in fact a member of the Coast Guard's boarding team--the first Americans to board an enemy man-of-war at sea since the War of 1812.
"Coast Guardsmen from the cutter SPENCER picking up survivors from the Nazi U-boat just before it made its final dive. Meanwhile, the convoy steamed on."; 17 April 1943; Photo No. 1513 (?); photo by Jack January, USCGR.
The U-175 sank before the Coast Guard boarding crew could climb down the conning tower. That boarding team had been trained by the Royal Navy to board a surfaced U-boat and secure the coding machines and code books, but the U-boat's tanks had been flooded and it sank before the Coast Guardsmen could complete their mission.
"3/4 Stern Aerial View, U.S.C.G. Spencer, Alt. 250'."; 29 April 1944; Photo No. NYNY #5893-4-44 (BS#65125), NAS NYNY photograph; declassified.
This photograph provides an excellent overhead view of all of her war-time armament prior to her conversion to an Amphibious Force Flagship.
"W36, port broadside, Norfolk Navy Yard, Later alterations to some of this Class were made, converting them to Navy AGC's, as shown here by the SPENCER."; 26 September 1944; Photo No. 8630(44); photographer unknown.
Spencer underwent conversion to an amphibious force flagship at the Norfolk Navy Yard between 26 June and 11 September 1944. She then sailed for duty in the Pacific. She grounded at San Pedro Bay, Leyte on 7 December 1944 and sustained moderate damage. On 31 January 1945 she served as the flagship for the 8th Amphibious Group during the Nasugbu landings in Luzon, Philippines. She then served as the flagship for Task Group 78.2 during the Puerto Princessa landing, Palawan, Philippines. During April and May 1945 she served as the flagship for the Parang and Malabang landings in Mindanao, Philippines. In June 1945 she served as a fighter direction ship for the landings at Brunei, North Borneo. In July 1945 she served as the flagship for Task Group 78.2 again during the landings at Balikpapan, Borneo.
"U.S. Naval Shipyard, Charleston, S.C., U.S.S. SPENCER (W-36) Port Bow, Down View"; 17 May 1946; Photo No. 464-46; photographer unknown.
The Spencer after her reconversion back to a peacetime configuration.
"SPENCER On Way to Station Dog."; 22 May 1950; Photo No. 23723; photographer unknown.
Pamphlet, dinner menu for President George Washington's Birthday dinner celebration on board Spencer, 1952. Includes the menu for the evening and a list of the crew aboard.
Provided through the courtesy of former-crewman Eugene J. Monoski
No caption/date/photo number; photographer unknown.
Spencer, circa 1969, outfitted for duty in Vietnam.
No caption/date/photo number; photographer unknown.
Spencer, circa 1969.