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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND


Bittern

II

(MHC-43: displacement 360 (full load); length 144'6"; beam 27'; draft 6'; speed 14 knots; complement 44; armament 1 40 millimeter; class Bittern)

The second Bittern (MHC-43) was laid down on 19 August 1955 at City Island, N.Y., by the Consolidated Shipbuilding Corp.; sponsored by Mrs. Louise Curtze, wife of Capt. Charles A. Curtze; launched 4 March 1957; and commissioned on 26 August 1957, Lt. (j.g.) George C. Simpkins in command.

Owing to significant losses of minesweepers during the Korean War, whose old-fashioned sweeping gear could not handle modern magnetic influence mines, the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Ships (BuShips) soon produced designs for wooden-hulled sweepers with special non-magnetic diesel engines, controllable pitch propellers, and enhanced electrical minesweeping gear.  The Navy began construction of these new Aggressive-class and Bluebird-class minesweepers in 1955.  In an attempt to build a more specialized craft, the Navy also constructed a prototype mine hunter.  Bittern, also built with a wooden-hull and non-magnetic features, was designed to locate mines and other underwater obstacles using hull-mounted and towed sonar gear. She had no neutralization or minesweeping capability as her main function was to locate enemy mines for destruction by other assets, such as demolition teams or helicopters.


Undated photograph of Bittern (MHC-43),
showing her single 40 millimeter Bofors gun forward, boats and minesweeping gear aft.
Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

After fitting out at the New York Naval Shipyard, Bittern sailed south to her new home port at the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Va., arriving there on 7 October 1957.  She conducted shakedown training in November and, following the Christmas and New Year's holidays, proceeded north to the Washington Navy Yard, where she moored on 10 January 1958. The mine hunter remained there for a week, receiving visitors from the BuShips who wanted to see the new design.  Bittern then moved south to Charleston, S.C., where she underwent an underwater sound survey to check the noise level of her engines.  Acceptance trials continued in March, when she moved back north to Annapolis for tests with scientists from the David Taylor Model Basin.  In May, she sailed south to Panama City, Fla., for her fourth and final test phase.  Conducted by the U.S. Naval Mine Defense Laboratory, the six-week course tested Bittern's AN/SQQ-14 sonar and magnetic anomaly equipment under field conditions.

Returning to Little Creek on 24 June 1958, the mine hunter joined the Harbor Defense Unit and began local operations in the Norfolk area.  The crew also prepared for a training exercise scheduled for the fall.  Begun on 4 November, Exercise HarDEx/MinEx 58 tested equipment and evaluated mine hunting and minesweeping operations in the Norfolk area.  The following month, Bittern proceeded south to New Bern, N.C., and entered the Barbour Boat Works for repairs on 19 December.  There she received hull work and had new electronic mine detection equipment installed before returning to Norfolk on 2 March 1959.  The mine hunter then shifted to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard to commence a six-week overhaul or her wooden hull and engines.

With this work complete, Bittern departed Little Creek on a cruise south to Key West on 18 May 1959.  She remained there throughout the summer months, testing her new sonar equipment at the sound range, before sailing home on 28 August.  Following a month of upkeep, the mine hunter again sailed south to Key West on 5 October, this time in company with HMS Shoulton (M.1182).  The two mine warfare ships conducted side by side equipment evaluations until 15 December when they returned to Little Creek.

After a holiday stand down, the two ships commenced training operations in the waters near Yorktown, Va., on 19 January 1960.  These exercises lasted until 5 February when they returned to Little Creek.  Soon thereafter, Bittern received orders to proceed to the Gulf of Mexico and assist in the search for the wreckage of a Douglas DC-7B National Airlines passenger plane.  The aircraft had exploded and crashed into the ocean on 17 November 1959 about 107 miles southeast of New Orleans.  Underway on 23 February, the mine hunter proceeded to Key West, where she took on board provisions on 2 March.  Moving into the Gulf of Mexico, Bittern joined Assurance (MSO-521) for a ten-day sweep of the crash site off the Mississippi delta.  After a brief period of upkeep in Panama City, Fla., the mine hunter conducted a second search between 15 and 24 March.  While at the Bender Shipyard, Mobile, Ala., for upkeep, the crew learned the search was secured and Bittern sailed for home on the 28th, arriving in Little Creek on 4 April.

On 13 June 1960, the mine hunter sailed north to Newport, R.I., where she completed her previously interrupted training.  Returning home on 18 July, Bittern spent the next three months conducting local operations out of Norfolk.  Then, on 23 September, Bittern received orders to proceed north for an emergency search operation in Long Island Sound.  This search lasted until 4 October when, to the surprise of the crew, the mine hunter was ordered all the way south to Cape Canaveral, Fla.  Arriving in those warm waters on the 9th, Bittern helped search for a lost National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) booster engine.  With the search called off on 12 October, the mine hunter returned to Little Creek, arriving there on 15 October.

Bittern's crew received only a little rest, as the ship sailed to Wallop's Island, Va., to help search for a Mercury capsule that had splashed after failing to separate from its booster rocket.  Returning to Little Creek a week later, the mine hunter moved into the Norfolk Shipbuilding and Drydock Corp. for a much needed overhaul.  She remained there until 20 January 1961 when she returned to Little Creek.

Underway on 23 January 1961, Bittern proceeded south to Panama City, Fla., for a series of experiments in Gulf waters.  Aside from a mid-February upkeep period at Mobile, Ala., she operated out of the Mine Laboratory at Panama City until 10 March.  After returning home on the 16th, the mine hunter moved to the Old Dominion Marine Railway Corp., Berkley, Va., to commence a two-month overhaul.  Bittern conducted two more cruises south to the Naval Mine Defense Laboratory in Panama City later that summer.  The first lasted from 31 July to 4 September and the second took place between 7 November and 14 December.  In between these operations, the ship received repairs to her gyro and rudder motors at the Norfolk Shipbuilding and Drydock Corp. from 2 to 12 October.

Following a holiday stand down, Bittern got underway for Panama City on 22 January 1962 for another round of mine hunting experiments.  She suffered a port shaft break down the next day, however, and changed course to Charleston, S.C., arriving there on the 25th.  An investigation determined the hogging of Bittern's wooden hull, i.e. sagging at bow and stern, had forced both main shafts out of alignment.  Moving to Detyens Shipyard in Cainhoy, S.C., on 7 February, the mine hunter received repairs there until 14 March when she sailed for home.

On 9 April 1962, Bittern proceeded south to Panama City, arriving at the Naval Mine Defense Laboratory on the 15th.  She conducted mine hunting development work there until 22 June before returning to Little Creek.  The ship then spent most of the summer in upkeep or preparing for exercises in the fall.  Departing Virginia on 10 September, Bittern sailed to Bermuda for two weeks of exercises with British forces near that island.  The mine hunter returned to Little Creek on 23 September and, aside from a two week tender availability alongside repair ship Amphion (AR-13) in October, she remained in her berth until late December.  On the 20th of that month, Bittern entered the Old Dominion Marine Railway Corp. for another overhaul.

With yard work complete on 7 February 1963, Bittern moved back to Little Creek.  Unfortunately, problems with hull integrity and her sonar systems kept the mine hunter in her berth.  After several inspections, the mine hunter moved to the Norfolk Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. and was raised on the marine railway for more repair work on 10 April.  Hull patches, including work on her damaged sonar dome, were completed by early May.  A few days later, on the 7th, the crew discovered leaks in the mine hunter's port and starboard rudder wells.  The ship moved back on the marine railway on 16 May and remained there until the 27th.  Dock trials were completed on 18 June and the ship shifted to Little Creek on the 22d.  In order to double-check hull integrity, the mine hunter moved back onto the marine railway at Norfolk Shipbuilding and Drydock yard for a hull inspection on 29 June.  While investigators found the hull to be in good shape, they discovered the sonar dome patch was peeling off.  Bittern received quick patch repairs and she returned to Little Creek for the final time on 3 July.

The mine hunter then sailed south to Charleston, arriving in that port on 14 August 1963.  She embarked three divers from Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) 21 and proceeded to Onslow Bay on the 19th for mine hunting exercises.  These were designed to test Bittern's ability to find mines and then support Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) diver efforts to individually destroy the mines.   She returned to Little Creek on 23 August.

In September 1963, the mine hunter got underway for a divisional minesweeping exercise.  In company with Frigatebird (MSC‑191), Hummingbird (MSC‑192), Jacana (MSC‑193), and Limpkin (MSC‑195), Bittern proceeded to Charleston and arrived there on 20 September.  Joined by Orleans Parrish (MCS‑6), the minesweepers sailed to Onslow Bay on the 27th and spent the next two weeks conducting mine detection, recovery, and EOD mine destruction exercises before returning home.

On 17 October 1963, Bittern departed Little Creek to search for a crashed USAF C‑133 Cargomaster in the waters off Maryland's eastern shore.  That search, which was frequently interrupted by bad weather, kept the mine hunter busy for almost four months.  Various storm fronts forced Bittern to New York in late October and back to Little Creek or to the Coast Guard station at Cape May, N.J., in November.  Owing to weather damage to her sonar dome, Bittern sailed back to Little Creek and entered the Norfolk Shipbuilding and Drydock yard on 12 December for three weeks of repairs.  She went back to sea on 15 January 1964 for a final search run that ended on 7 February.


Following an upkeep period at Little Creek, which culminated in a service inspection on 19 March 1964, Bittern shifted to her new base of Charleston, S.C., on 1 April.  After degaussing runs at the end of the month, the mine hunter got underway for an exercise on 18 May.  She planted reference buoys in Long Bay that day and conducted two days of sonobuoy exercises with aircraft from VP-16.  A week later, she supported two days of diving operations on fishing reefs off Myrtle Beach.

On 2 July 1964, Bittern sailed south to Key West to help search for lost minesweeping gear.  After five days on site, she proceeded to Mayport on the 10th, before returning to Charleston on 13 July.  She remained there, aside from a few days of local operations, through the end of August.  On 14 September, Bittern again sailed to Key West, where she tried out new acoustic minesweeping devices and helped test the underway transfer of mine hunting equipment to helicopters.  After a brief stop at West Palm Beach, the mine hunter returned home on 16 October.

On 19 November 1964, Bittern sailed north to help search for a crashed Navy Lockheed P-3A Orion off Newfoundland.  After refueling at Newport, and passing through the Cape Cod Canal, she arrived at Argentia, Newfoundland, on 26 November.  While enroute, the mine hunter spotted two Soviet fishing trawlers off of Massachusetts and reported their positions to the Coast Guard.  Bittern began searching for the aircraft in Placentia Bay on the 28th.  With the search called off a week later, she departed the area on 6 December and arrived back in Charleston on the 13th.

Following a holiday standdown, and a series of local operations out of Charleston, Bittern got underway on 22 March 1965 for operations in the West Indies.  After arriving at Gunatanamo Bay on the 26th, she put to sea two days later and relieved Alacrity (MSO‑520) in the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba.  She remained on special operations there until relieved by Venture (MSO‑496) on 5 April.  After a week in Guantanamo, Bittern relieved Venture until relieved in turn by Observer (MSO‑461) on the 15th.  The mine hunter then proceeded to Jamaica, where she stopped in Ocho Rios Bay for a three-day visit before moving on to Miami on the 23d.  She finally returned home to Charleston on 28 April.

Bittern was then ordered north to Massachusetts on 10 May 1965.  Arriving in Buzzard's Bay on the 13th, she helped search for a downed USAAF C-2A aircraft near Cuttyhunk Island.  After a week, the mine hunter gave up the search and refueled at Newport before returning to Charleston on the 26th.  Upon Bittern's return, her crew learned that the mine hunter was tapped for inactivation.  In addition to the labor intensive needs of her wooden hull, the mine hunter's unreliable engines and slow speed did not meet the needs of the Navy.  Accordingly, on 14 June, Bittern shifted to Portsmouth, Va., and entered the Old Dominion Marine Railway Corp. for inactivation.


Bittern was decommissioned on 24 September 1965 and transferred to the Commander, Norfolk Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet shortly thereafter.  On 29 June 1966, the mine hunter was transferred to the Naval Air Systems Command and thence loaned to the Vocaline Co., South Bristol, Me., where she served as a test platform.  She was returned to the Navy on 18 January 1972 and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 February 1972.

Later lent to the Greater Maine Vocational Institute of Technology, Bangor, Me., she was returned to the Navy at Philadelphia on 6 November 1966.  The hulk was then towed to Baltimore, Md., in December 2000 and scrapped by Baltimore Marine Industries under the Naval Sea Systems Command's ship scrapping pilot program.

June 2011