Figure 1: USS Unimak (AVP-31) being christened at Seattle, Washington, on 29 May 1942. The sponsor was Mrs. H. B. Berry, the wife of Captain H.B. Berry, the personnel officer of the 13th Naval District. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Unimak (AVP-31) at Seattle, Washington, on 31 January 1944. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: US Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Unimak (WAVP-379) after she was transferred to the Coast Guard from the US Navy, date and location unknown. The ship has been heavily modified for Coast Guard use. US Coast Guard photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USCGC Unimak underway, date and location unknown. By this time, she was re-designated WHEC-379 by the Coast Guard. US Coast Guard photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USCGC Unimak (WHEC-379) underway, date and location unknown. US Coast Guard photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USCGC Unimak (WHEC-379) at sea, 8 June 1987. US Coast Guard photograph from the office of the Coast Guard Historian. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a bay at Unimak Island, Alaska, the 1,766-ton USS Unimak (AVP-31) was a Barnegat class small seaplane tender that was built by the Associated Shipbuilders at Seattle, Washington, and was commissioned on 31 December 1943. The ship was approximately 310 feet long and 41 feet wide, had a top speed of 18 knots, and had a crew of 367 officers and men. As built, Unimak was armed with two 5-inch guns, two twin 40-mm gun mounts, and four twin 20-mm gun mounts, although this armament changed dramatically in later years.
Following a shakedown cruise that lasted until the end of January 1944, Unimak commenced seaplane support duties in the Panama Canal Zone in March 1944, operating first along the Pacific coast of Central and South America and then based at Coco Solo, Panama, on the Atlantic side of the canal. While based at Coco Solo, Unimak conducted routine exercises with patrol planes until the beginning of July 1944. On 4 July, Unimak received reports that a tanker near her position had been torpedoed and she immediately headed for the damaged ship. When the seaplane tender reached the tanker later that day, the tanker, though damaged, was still underway and was steaming towards the coast of Panama. Unimak, along with several US Army and Navy aircraft, escorted the damaged tanker to Colon, Panama, and both ships arrived there the following afternoon.
Several days later on 12 July, Unimak assisted the destroyer John D. Edwards (DD-216) in hunting for a submarine reported to be on patrol nearby. While searching for the submarine, a report of a crashed plane sent the two ships racing to the last reported position of the aircraft. Unimak located the wreckage of the plane and found one body. After retrieving the body, the captain and crew of the seaplane tender gave the aviator a proper burial-at-sea ceremony on 16 July.
Unimak was stationed in the Caribbean through the fall of 1944, tending to patrol planes, conducting logistics support missions for advanced seaplane bases, and occasionally towing targets for the patrol planes training in the area. On 15 December 1944, Unimak was relieved by the seaplane tender USS Rockaway (AVP-29), allowing Unimak to steam to Boston Massachusetts, for an overhaul.
Unimak’s overhaul lasted from December 1944 to March 1945. After that, the seaplane tender made two voyages to England to transport seaplane personnel and supplies back to the United States. In July 1945, Unimak left Norfolk, Virginia, for the Pacific, where she was first based in Hawaii and then in Alaska. Unimak commenced inactivation in December 1945 and was decommissioned on 26 July 1946.
Unimak remained in reserve until 14 September 1948, when she was transferred to the US Coast Guard. The ship was heavily modified and re-designated US Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Unimak (WAVP-379). Unimak initially was based at Boston for weather station duty, but subsequently performed a wide variety of services, including search-and-rescue, seaborne drug interdiction in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, training Coast Guard officers and crewmen, and fishing patrol duty out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Later re-designated WHEC-379 and WTR-379, Unimak was the last surviving ex-AVP US Navy seaplane tender in Coast Guard service when decommissioned in April 1988. After 44 years of service, Unimak then was scuttled and sunk off the coast of Virginia to serve as an artificial reef for fish.