Tuesday, December 15, 2009

USS Tulsa (PG-22)

Figure 1: USS Tulsa (PG-22) at Hong Kong, April 1941. US Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: US Navy photograph of USS Tulsa (PG-22) from the 1924 edition of Jane's Fighting Ships. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: US Navy photograph of USS Tulsa (PG-22) on 1 September 1938 after an overhaul. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: US Navy photograph of USS Tulsa (PG-22) during World War II. Click on photograph for larger image.

USS Tulsa (PG-22) was a 1,760-ton Asheville class steel gunboat that was built in the Charleston Navy Yard at Charleston, South Carolina, and was commissioned on 3 December 1923. She was an improved Sacramento class gunboat and was the sole sister ship to Asheville, the lead ship in the class. Tulsa was approximately 241 feet long and 41 feet wide, had a top speed of 12 knots, and had a crew of 159 officers and men. The gunboat was armed with three 4-inch guns and two 3-pounders.

On 19 January 1924, Tulsa left Charleston and steamed to the Caribbean to join the Special Service Squadron. The ship spent the next five years patrolling the waters of Central America and the Caribbean, from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Panama and Nicaragua. In the late 1920s, sailors and Marines from Tulsa landed in Nicaragua to protect American lives and property. She also participated in naval training exercises off Panama and visited ports in Honduras. In 1928, Tulsa transited the Panama Canal and headed for the west coast. On 24 January 1929, Tulsa left San Francisco, California, and headed for her new assignment in the Far East.

Tulsa initially was based in Manila, the Philippines, but then on 1 April 1929 she became the flagship of the South China Patrol and moved to Hong Kong. Tulsa was assigned patrol duties up the Pearl River and along the south China coast. Tulsa was relieved in these duties by the gunboat Mindanao (PR-8) in June 1929 and then sailed to Shanghai and eventually continued upriver to Hankow. Tulsa was made station ship at Tientsin in north China in July.

Throughout the 1930s, Tulsa returned to the South China Patrol and observed much of the fighting during the Sino-Japanese War in July 1937. As tensions mounted between the United States and Japan in the Pacific, Admiral Thomas C. Hart, Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Fleet (CINCAF), began withdrawing American warships from China and moved them to the relative “safety” of the Philippines. As a result of this new policy, Tulsa arrived at the US naval base at Cavite, the Philippines, in May 1941 and was attached to the Inshore Patrol, which was assigned the task of guarding Manila Bay. On 10 December 1941, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese aircraft mounted an enormous attack on Cavite. To escape the devastation, Tulsa anchored off shore, away from the burning naval base, and used her small boats to send crewmembers ashore to fight the raging fires and to rescue injured naval personnel. Later that day, Tulsa was ordered to retreat to Balikpapan, Borneo, along with her sister ship Asheville (PG-21) and the minesweepers Lark (AM-21) and Whippoorwill (AM-35).

Shortly after reaching Balikpapan, Tulsa proceeded to Surabaya, Java, in the Netherlands East Indies. She then went on to Tjilatjap, located on the southern coast of Java, where her crew constructed an improvised depth-charge rack for the ship, giving the gunboat a modicum of anti-submarine capability. Tulsa now escorted merchant ships along the coast of Java, even though she was woefully ill-equipped for this task. On 26 February 1942, Tulsa participated in the search for survivors from the sunken American aircraft carrier Langley (AV-3) and, although she did not find any, the gunboat encountered a sinking British merchant ship, City of Manchester. Tulsa took on survivors and some of them were brought to the ship’s sick bay, where they received medical attention. After the rescue operation was completed, Tulsa returned to Tjilatjap.

As the military situation deteriorated in Java and the Japanese were about to take the island, what was left of the once-proud US Asiatic Fleet was ordered to leave. On 1 March 1942, Tulsa, Asheville, Lark, and the gunboat Isabel (PY-10) left Tjilatjap and steamed towards Australia. Unfortunately, Asheville developed engine trouble and fell behind and later was sunk by Japanese warships. By sheer luck, the other three ships avoided both Japanese aircraft and naval vessels and made it to Australia.

Tulsa was based at Fremantle, Australia, and for the next seven months was assigned patrol duties off the Australian coast. In October 1942, she underwent a major overhaul in Sydney and was equipped with British ASDIC sonar, degaussing equipment, Y-guns, and 20-mm cannons. Once the overhaul was completed, Tulsa again was used as a convoy escort. But towards the end of 1942, she briefly was assigned to Submarine Forces, Southwest Pacific, and used as a practice target for Allied submarines based at Fremantle. Tulsa would conduct naval exercises with the submarines, enabling them to practice surface and subsurface attacks on the gunboat. In November 1942, Tulsa was sent to New Guinea, where she assisted American PT boats at their base at Kona Kope, on the southeastern shore of Milne Bay. But on 20 December 1942, Tulsa struck an uncharted submerged pinnacle and had to return to Australia for repairs.

Once repairs were completed, Tulsa returned to Milne Bay and resumed her patrol duties. On the night of 20 January 1943, six Japanese aircraft attacked the ship. Fortunately, Tulsa’s gunners were able to prevent the Japanese from scoring any hits, even though 12 bombs were dropped on the ship. For the rest of 1943, Tulsa served in New Guinea, tending PT boats, escorting supply ships, and serving as the flagship for the Seventh Fleet. On one occasion, while serving as a PT boat tender, Tulsa towed PT-109, which was later commanded by John F. Kennedy, the future president of the United States.

Tulsa underwent another major overhaul in December 1943 and then was sent back to Milne Bay. She served as the flagship for Captain Bern C. Anderson, Commander, Task Force 76.5.3 and also participated in the assault on Hollandia on 26 April 1944 and on Wakde Island on 17 May. After that, she was used as an escort and patrol craft in the New Guinea/Australia area of operations before being transferred to the Philippines in November 1944.

While in the Philippines, Tulsa remained with the Seventh Fleet. On 18 December 1944, the old gunboat was renamed Tacloban, after a town on the island of Leyte, so that her old name could be used for a new heavy cruiser that was being built back in the United States. Tacloban continued her convoy escort and patrol duties in the Philippines until early September 1945, when she was ordered to escort two ships to Okinawa. But on 7 September 1945, while steaming towards Okinawa, Tacloban had a major engine malfunction and was barely able to make it to the island under her own power. Once repairs were made at Okinawa, Tacloban was ordered to steam back to the United States. She reached Pearl Harbor on 18 December 1945 and San Francisco on 10 January 1946. The Navy determined that it had no further use for this old warship, so she was decommissioned on 6 March 1946. On 12 October 1946, Tacloban, formerly USS Tulsa, was sold for scrapping.