Tuesday, August 19, 2008

USS Partridge (AM-16/ATO138)

Figure 1: Undated photograph of USS Partridge (AM-16), prior to her conversion to an ocean-going tug. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Partridge (ATO-138) shown here after her conversion into an ocean-going tug. Date unknown. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: Picture taken of USS Partridge (AM-16) on 28 June 1919. Courtesy Ric Hedman. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after a bird found in North America, USS Partridge (AM-16) was a 950-ton Lapwing class minesweeper that was built by the Chester Shipbuilding Company at Chester, Pennsylvania. Partridge was commissioned on 17 June 1919 and was approximately 187 feet long and 35 feet wide, with a top speed of 14 knots and a crew of 72 officers and men. She was modestly armed with two 3-inch guns and two machine guns.

Completed after the end of World War I, Partridge was assigned to the Pacific Fleet as a minesweeper until she was transferred to the Atlantic Fleet in June 1941. Partridge was then converted into an ocean-going tug and was reclassified AT-138 on 1 June 1942. For almost two years, she participated in salvage, towing, and rescue operations along the East Coast of the United States and in the Caribbean, saving numerous lives and ships in distress. On 15 May 1944, Partridge was reclassified ATO-138 (ATO standing for Ocean Tug, Old) and was ordered to England to assist in the preparation for the invasion of Normandy. Partridge arrived in England and stayed there until 10 June, when she was ordered to steam toward the Normandy beachhead to assist in a major towing operation. While nearing Normandy in the early morning hours of 11 June, Partridge was suddenly attacked by a German E-Boat. The E-Boat fired a torpedo and scored a direct hit on the tug. Partridge sank shortly after she was hit, taking with her 32 officers and men, almost half her crew.

Many ships were lost during the invasion of Normandy. Few (if any) are remembered today. What makes the loss of Partridge tragic is the fact that she was not a large ship, or a famous ship, or even a heavily armed ship. She was just a humble tug doing her job with no glamour and even less fanfare. Yet this small ship was sunk and the 32 men who died that night had families, friends, wives and sweethearts who would never see them again. World War II proved that being on a ship, any ship, in hostile waters could be an extremely dangerous proposition.