Tuesday, November 23, 2010

USS Apache (AT-67, ATF-67)

Figure 1: USS Apache (ATF-67) underway off the coast of southern California, 31 August 1964, in a view taken by Photographer 2d Class Lindberg. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Apache (ATF-67) underway, date and location unknown. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: USS Apache (ATF-67) and White Sands (ARD-20) moored at either Naval Station Rodman or Balboa, Panama Canal Zone, circa 28 February 1969. Apache and White Sands, with the deep submergence vehicle Trieste on board, were en route to an area near the Azores to search for the nuclear submarine USS Scorpion (SSN-589) which was lost in May 1968. Apache towed White Sands which was the support ship for the deep submergence vehicle Trieste that actually searched for the missing Scorpion. Courtesy Gary Ragsdale, EN3/Second Class Diver on board USS Apache.

Figure 4: USS Apache (ATF-67) underway, circa 1970-1971. Submitted by Bob Hallmark to the NAFTS (National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors). Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: USS Apache (ATF-67) underway off San Diego, California, in 1973. Courtesy Gary P. Ragsdale EN3/Second Class Diver on board USS Apache, 1972-73. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6: Ex-USS Apache (ATF-67) in the Republic of China (Taiwan) service as ROCS Ta Wan (ATF-551), moored pier side at Keelung Harbor, Taiwan, 16 March 2006. Courtesy Perry Huang. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 7: ROCS Ta Wan (ATF-551) getting underway at Keelung Harbor, Taiwan, 16 March 2006. Courtesy Perry Huang. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 8: ROCS Ta Wan (ATF-551) underway departing Keelung Harbor, Taiwan, 16 March 2006. Courtesy Perry Huang. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after an American Indian tribe, the 1,675-ton USS Apache (AT-67) was a Navajo class fleet tug that was built by the Charleston Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company at Charleston, South Carolina, and was commissioned on 12 December 1942. The ship was approximately 205 feet long and 38 feet wide, had a top speed of 16.5 knots, and had a crew of 85 officers and men. Apache was armed with one 3-inch gun, two twin 40-mm gun mounts, two single 20-mm gun mounts, and two .50-caliber machine guns.

After spending six weeks training off the coast of Portsmouth, Virginia, and Key West, Florida, Apache left in February 1943 for San Diego, California. Once there, she spent two months assigned to various towing operations before leaving for New Caledonia on 8 May. Apache arrived at Noumea, New Caledonia, in mid June and remained there until October, towing and salvaging ships at Noumea, Funafuti, and Espiritu Santo.

On 26 October 1943, Apache was assigned to Task Force (TF) 31 for the invasion of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands. The landing began on 1 November and Apache assisted grounded ships that were trying to pull away from the beaches. From December 1943 to March 1944, the ship worked throughout the Solomon Islands. On 17 March, Apache was attached to Task Group (TG) 31.2 for the assault on Emirau Island in the Bismarck Island chain. After assisting ships in this invasion, she returned to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands on 4 April. On 15 May 1944, Apache was reclassified a fleet ocean tug and re-designated ATF-67.

On 4 June 1944, Apache participated in the invasion of Saipan and several weeks later assisted in the invasion of Guam. Apache cleared amphibious vessels from the beach on Guam and escorted transports that also were steaming off the coast of that island. After returning briefly to the Solomon Islands in August, Apache sailed to Auckland, New Zealand, in October. She returned to New Caledonia in November and then was sent to Hollandia, New Guinea, on 12 December. Apache then steamed to Leyte, the Philippines, and remained there until the end of the year.

Apache was assigned to TG 77.6 on 2 January 1945 and took part in the invasion of Luzon in the Philippines. For several days, the tug worked under frequent air attacks and on 5 January she was assaulted by a number of Japanese aircraft. Apache claimed to have shot down a total of four planes (although this was not verified), with one of them crashing into her radar mast and exploding off her port bow. Although three of her crewmen were wounded in this battle, the ship itself escaped with only minor damage. Apache remained on station with the task group and on 13 January she assisted the damaged escort carrier USS Salamaua (CVE-96) and brought the kamikaze-damaged warship to Leyte for repairs.

On 24 February 1945, Apache left for Ulithi atoll in the Pacific and remained there assisting damaged warships for roughly two months. After briefly returning to Leyte, Apache arrived at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 16 June. She left for the west coast the next day and reached San Francisco, California, a few days later. She underwent a thorough overhaul at the United Engineering Company at Alameda, California, and was undergoing training exercises off San Pedro, California, when the war ended in August. In September 1945, Apache was sent to San Diego and was based there for the next 14 months. On 3 December 1946, Apache was decommissioned and placed in reserve for the Pacific Fleet.

Due to a need for warships after the outbreak of the Korean War, Apache was re-commissioned on 20 July 1951. After a few months of work along America’s west coast, Apache was sent to the Far East and arrived in Sasebo, Japan, in early December 1951. On 17 December, Apache sailed to Wonsan, Korea, and became the primary salvage and rescue vessel there. She briefly returned to Sasebo in early January 1952, but then acted as a patrol boat off Cho Do Island near Korea’s west coast on 18 January. Apache went to Yokosuka, Japan, on 19 February for some minor repairs and then returned to Wonsan Harbor on 20 March. She actually participated in several shore-bombardment missions in addition to serving as a salvage and rescue vessel. Apache returned to Sasebo in April, but made several salvage trips to Cheju Do, Korea, before returning to Sasebo once again.

Apache returned to Wonsan on 16 June and served there until going back to Sasebo on 28 June. The ship left Japan on 2 July and steamed to Pearl Harbor. She remained there for roughly nine months. Apache went to Seattle, Washington, on 4 May 1953, towed a ship there and then returned to San Diego. After working along the California coast until mid-July, Apache returned to the western Pacific. She served there until the end of 1954, performing various towing missions at Guam, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Bikini atoll, and the Philippines.

From January 1955 to 1965, Apache divided her time between towing operations along America’s west coast and assignments in the Far East, mostly in Japan and the Philippines. In late 1965, Apache made her first trip to Vietnam. She began an assignment with the Seventh Fleet on Yankee Station off the coast of Vietnam. In February 1966, Apache escorted the destroyer USS Brinkley Bass (DD-887) to Subic Bay after that ship collided with USS Waddell (DDG-24) in the South China Sea. After a short stint at Danang, Vietnam, Apache went to Hong Kong and Taiwan for some brief recreational visits. She then returned to the Philippines and completed one more towing mission from the Philippines to Danang before leaving Vietnam and returning to the United States. She arrived at San Diego on 1 April 1966.

For almost three years, Apache served as a tug along America’s west coast. But in May 1969, she was sent to the Azores and assisted in the search for the sunken submarine USS Scorpion (SSN-589). Apache escorted the salvage ships that inspected the remains of the submarine before returning to the United States. The ship arrived at San Diego on 7 October 1969. After an extensive overhaul, Apache returned to duty in mid-April 1970. Apache continued her duties as a tug off the coast of California until she made her last tow on 31 January 1974, when she delivered USS Sterett (DLG-31) to Long Beach, California. On 27 February 1974, the veteran tug was decommissioned for the last time. But Apache was sold under the Security Assistance Program to Taiwan on 1 June 1974. The ship was renamed Ta Wan (ATF-551) and, as of 16 March 2006, was still in service. Her final fate, though, is unknown.

USS Apache was an amazing ship. She served in three wars and provided more than 64 years of service in two navies. USS Apache also won six battle stars and the Navy Unit Commendation for her service in World War II, she earned two battle stars for her service during the Korean War, and she received two battle stars, the Navy Unit Commendation, and the Meritorious Unit Commendation for her service in Vietnam. This was a remarkable achievement for a fleet tug and one few ships have matched.