Trees of the pine family, distinguished by their short-fascicled deciduous leaves and tough and durable wood.
(YN-16: displacement 560; length 157'8"; beam 30'6"; draft 10'6"; speed 14.5 knots; complement 38; armament 1 3-inch/23 caliber, 2 .50 caliber machine guns; class Aloe)
Larch (YN 16) was laid down on 18 October 1940 at Point Pleasant, W.Va., by the Marietta Manufacturing Co.; launched on 2 July 1941; and placed in service at the Todd Johnson Dockyards, New Orleans, La., on 13 December 1941, Lt. George B. Coale, DE-V(G), in command.
After initial fitting out, Larch sailed for Key West, Fla., on 17 December 1941, standing down the Mississippi River and taking her departure. She reached Naval Station, Key West, on 19 December, and fit out there for a month. During that time, two days after Christmas of 1941 [27 December], Larch got underway during the second dog watch to "locate and assist" President Adams (AP-38). Making visual contact with the disabled transport late in the mid watch the following morning, the net tender towed her until she was able to proceed under her own power, after which Larch then returned to Naval Station, Key West.
Larch sailed for New York on 19 January 1942. While the ship had been completing her fitting out, Operation Paukenschlag ("Roll of the Kettledrums") descended upon the eastern seaboard of the U.S. like a "bolt from the blue" as U-66, U-109, U-123, U-125 and U-130, comprising the first group of five German submarines, took up station off the east coast of the United States on that date. On the same day [19 January 1942] that Larch sailed for the Third Naval District, as the U-boat assault on unescorted coastal shipping continued, U-123 torpedoed the unarmed U.S. steamship City of Atlanta off the North Carolina coast, 12 miles south of the Wimble Shoals buoy. The venerable freighter rolled over and sank in ten minutes, before the crew could lower any life boats. The railroad ferry Seatrain Texas rescued the three survivors of the 46-man crew.
Three days later, while still engaged in her coastal passage to New York, Larch passed through the waters where the sinking had occurred, and came across mute evidence of what had befallen the 38-year old freighter. She sighted one body and circled to retrieve it at the end of the morning watch. By midway through the forenoon watch, the net tender had pulled nine more corpses from the water, only one of which – that of Able-Bodied Seaman Samuel Sellers - she could identify by papers found on the body. All wore life jackets carrying the name of their ill-fated vessel. Putting in to Lynnhaven Roads later that day, Larch anchored and transferred the dead to the district patrol vessel YP-52.
Continuing her voyage the following morning, she reached Tompkinsville, Staten Island, N.Y., on 24 January 1942. She sailed for Newport, R.I., on the 26th, and moored to the fuel docks on the 27th. After heavy snow forced her to come about and return to port on 28 January, she sailed on 6 February for the New York Navy Yard, arriving there the following day. She began patrol operations soon thereafter.
On 9 March 1942, Larch got underway at 1332 to proceed to her station, the waters extending from Buoy X-Ray to the Barnegat (N.J.) Lighted Buoy. She sounded the general alarm and manned battle stations at 2023 when she sighted an unidentified ship. Finding the vessel to be American, Larch secured from general quarters and resumed her patrol.
Forty minutes into the mid watch on 10 March 1942, however, the net tender sighted a white flare three points on her starboard bow, and altered course to investigate. She went to general quarters at 0055, and at 0215 came across the forward half of the U.S. tanker Gulftrade (Gulf Oil Corp.), that had en route from Port Arthur, Tex., to New York City with a cargo of bunker fuel oil when she had been torpedoed by U-588 about two miles east of Barnegat.
Larch searched the wreckage closely and saw no signs of life, but at 0230 spoke the Coast Guard cutter Antietam (WPC-128), that signaled for the net tender to proceed to the waters off the Barnegat buoy and take off the remaining survivors (Antietam had rescued nine men) from the after portion of the torpedoed tanker. A half hour later, Larch spotted Gulftrade's stern, screw out of the water, drifting with the force 7 wind and heavy sea in a northeasterly direction.
After an unsuccessful attempt to use a line, the 36-year old Lt. Coale, with over 13 years' experience at sea, ingeniously utilized his ship's unique features. Believing that any attempt to remove the seven men either by boat, life float, or line would doubtless have resulted in loss of life due to the darkness, low temperatures, and heavy sea, Coale ordered Larch nosed into Gulftrade at a point where the net tender's prominent horns lay across the tanker's sloping but oily decks, keeping his ship in that position by judicious and skillful use of engines and rudder.
Instructed by megaphone to climb up on the horns and then make their way to the forecastle, Gulftrade's sailors, however, seemed hesitant as the two ships worked together in the storm. Sensing the merchant mariners' justifiable reluctance, some of Larch's crew, GM3c Victor R. Downey and AP “A” “G” Miller among them, "immediately and without orders" clambered out onto the horns to assist the survivors across, where a slip by either rescuer or rescuee could have meant "certain death from being crushed or lost overboard." In that hazardous fashion, within ten minutes, Chief Engineer Guy F. Chadwick, First Assistant Engineer Forrest Lodberg, Third Assistant Engineer Charles Z. Nebeus, Fireman Windels Malpass, Able-Bodied Seaman Leonard Smith, Wiper Longo Porter and Fireman Reinhold A. Krahian made their perilous way to safety. Once she had recovered Gulftrade's survivors, Larch backed clear, and after a search of the area to look "for any other possible survivors" (during which time the U.S. freighter William H. Machen happened by, informed by Larch of what had just transpired), the net tender set course to return to Tompkinsville, mooring alongside the north side of pier six at the Section Base at 0800, disembarking the seven men an hour later under the supervision of section base officers. At 1255, the net tender got underway to resume her patrol.
Three days later, on 13 March 1942, Chilean freighter Tolten, a neutral ship but sailing darkened, was torpedoed and sunk by U-404 off Barnegat. Subsequently, a plane en route from Langley Field to Mitchell Field sighted one survivor on a life raft at 39°50'N, 73°40'W. The cutter Antietam and the coastal minesweeper AMc-200 were sent to the scene, while NAS Lakehurst put aloft blimps, one of which, L-2, ultimately sighted the raft seen earlier that day. Antietam picked up Julio Faurstan, the only survivor of what had been a crew of between 16 and 21 men, and recovered five bodies, then, at 1517, transferred Faurstan and the bodies of five of his shipmates. AMc-200 transferred one unidentified body to Larch at 1628.
Less than a month later, Larch departed New York on 12 April 1942, bound for Trinidad, British West Indies (BWI), and arrived at her new duty station, the Caribbean Sea Frontier, on 28 April. Pending the arrival of net material, she carried out patrols off the entrance to the Dragon's Mouth (Bocas del Dragon).
Larch was placed in commission at Trinidad on 12 December 1942, Lt. Carl C. Dilcer, D-V(S), in command. Larch laid and maintained anti-torpedo and anti-submarine net defenses at Trinidad, Barbados and St. Lucia BWI, and Martinique, French West Indies, as well as at Curaçao, Netherlands West Indies, and Puerto de la Cruz, Venezuela.
While Larch was engaged in her work in that theater of war, beginning on 3 August 1943, Trinidad-based patrol planes engaged the German submarine U-615 (Kapitänleutnant Ralph Kapitzky). The enemy boat shot down the first Martin PBM-3s Mariner (BuNo 6722) that attacked, from VP-205, with the loss of Lt. (j.g.) C.C. Cox and his entire crew. Non-rigid airships from Blimp Squadron (ZP) 51 took part in the search for survivors that proved fruitless. Planes attacked U-615 on 5 August, and again on the 6th, with the enemy succeeded in splashing 205-P-4, a second VP-205 Mariner (BuNo 6713) with the loss of Lt. Anthony R. Matuski, A-V(N), and his entire crew.
Later on 6 August 1943, airship K-68 - Lt. (j.g.) Wallace A. Wydeen, A-V(N ), in command - from ZP-51, received orders to "renew contact with the harassed sub, if possible, and to search for survivors" of 205-P-4. In the meantime, VP-204's Lt. Lewis D. Crockett, A-V(N), in a VP-205 PBM-3s, 205-P-11, attacked U-615, expended all of his ordnance but his flying boat took six hits from the German guns, one of which set fire to the starboard wing (a blaze snuffed out by Warrant Machinist Anthony S. Creider with a shirt and two fire extinguishers). A Lockheed PV aided in the fight, straddling U-615 with its ordnance, but Kapitänleutnant Kapitzky's unterseeboote continued her gallant fight by damaging two more attacking Mariners.
In the gathering twilight on 6 August 1943, K-68 neared the battle area, reaching it almost simultaneously with a USAAF B-18 that carried out an attack on the battered U-615.
Although ordered to return to base, K-68 encountered contrary winds, and began running low on fuel some 300 miles from Trinidad. Sighting the island of Blanquilla – a Venezuelan possession - shortly before running completely out of fuel, the blimp made a forced landing. Although K-68 had been tethered to some short trees, rising winds necessitated the envelope being deflated on the morning of the 7th. As part of the unfolding rescue effort, Larch proceeded to Blanquilla Island and carried out the salvage of K-68.
Her designation changed from a net tender, YN-16, to a net-laying ship, AN-21, effective on 20 January 1944, Larch was assigned to the 10th Naval District on 21 April 1944, reporting for duty four days later. She continued her vital duties for the remainder of 1944, a routine punctuated only by her towing a disabled motor launch from Port of Spain to the Net Depot at Trinidad on 16 June, the removal of her .50-caliber machine gun battery (22 June), a drydocking in YFD-6 at the Escort Repair Base (24-29 June), and an accidental ramming by YNT-1 (28 August).
During the morning watch on 10 January 1945, Larch got underway from the Net Depot dock at Trinidad and proceeded to Cocorite Bay, where the Pan American Airways China Clipper – the Martin 130 flying boat (one of three built) that had inaugurated passenger and mail service to Manila in 1935 - had crashed on 8 January, while en route from Miami, Fla., to Leopoldville, Belgian Congo, with the loss of 23 (of the 30 embarked) people on board.
Larch carried out salvage operations during the forenoon watch on 10 January 1945, and again in the afternoon and first dog watches, ultimately hauling up the China Clipper's starboard wing and part of the fuselage between her horns, as well as six bodies, midway through the latter period, at 1700. Proceeding thence to the Army Base at Trinidad, Larch transferred what she had recovered, carrying out the task between 1845 and 2125, returning to the Net Depot, securing her engines a quarter of an hour before the start of the mid watch on 11 January.
Larch continued her net-tending operations attached to the Trinidad Sector of the 10th Naval District through the end of World War II in the European theater in the spring of 1945. Underway for Fort de France late in the morning watch on 10 May, Larch reached Martinique early in the first dog watch the next day, briefly hosting U.S. Vice Consul W.H. Christensen and Lt. L. Reid, USNR, the Naval Attachè in Martinique, and Lt. Julian Fresigne, French Navy, soon after she had moored. She engaged in net-removal operations until 20 May, when she cleared the port to return to Trinidad.
Arriving back at her base on the afternoon of 21 May 1945, Larch sailed for Puerto de la Cruz, Venezuela, on 25 May, making arrival the next day, where she carried out removal of net sections until the 29th. Returning to Trinidad via the Bocas del Dragon, the net-laying ship then steamed back to Curaçao, arriving on 12 June. She underwent a drydocking there (14-15 June), then resumed net operations, removing buoys, anchors and chains at Bullen Bay, Curaçao. Departing that place on 21 June, she returned to Trinidad two days later.
Figuring in post-war plans, the net-laying ship had little employment within the 10th Naval District by 21 September 1945, with net work completed and an overhaul due. Commandant, 10th Naval District (Com10) queried OpNav on the matter that same day, and the latter cancelled Larch's assignment to Com10 and directed her to report to the Atlantic Fleet for duty, which she did on 23 September. She departed Trinidad two days later, on 25 September.
Proceeding to Norfolk via Martinique (26 September 1945), San Juan, Puerto Rico (28-30 September), and Fort Pierce, Fla., with her orders to tow the floating workshop YR-51 on 4 October cancelled, Larch reported to Commander, Service Force, Atlantic Fleet (ComServLant), on 12 October upon her arrival at her destination. On 12 December, less than a fortnight before Christmas, with Larch slated for disposal, ComServLant directed that "only necessary work to make [the ship] habitable and seaworthy" be carried out during her overhaul, and to "discontinue all other work."
On 28 January 1946, however, ComServLant directed Larch to report to Commandant, 5th Naval District (Com5) for duty in connection with laying mooring buoys, orders with which the ship complied on 2 February. Larch remained at Norfolk until she was decommissioned at the Convoy Escort Piers there on 28 June 1946 while she lay alongside the floating workshop YR-29.
The Secretary of the Navy authorized disposal of Larch on 22 August 1946, and, four days later, the office of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) instructed Com 5 to deliver the ship to "another American government" when so directed by the Office of the Foreign Liquidation Commission. On 13 January 1947, however, the CNO directed that Larch "be retained" in [the] Fifth Naval District "without further stripping pending decision as to final disposal, possibly to another American government." Three days later, on 16 January, the CNO, with it "now planned not to dispose of [Larch]," directed that the ship be withdrawn from the "surplus category." The CNO then directed, on 17 February, that the ship be delivered to the Maritime Commission.
Larch was stricken from the List of Naval Vessels on 5 March 1947, and was apparently contemplated for purchase by the government of Cuba, for a CNO message of 24 March stated that a "Cuban party will inspect [the ship in the] near future prior to purchase." Such a transaction, however, never took place, for CNO then directed Com 5 to hold ex-Larch in a deferred disposal status "pending further instructions."
Continued in that status on 29 August 1947, the ship was earmarked for transfer to Turkey, on 10 October 1947. Reconditioned at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, ex-Larch, her transfer to the Tidewater area having been delayed 24 hours due to bad weather, cleared Philadelphia under tow of the fleet tug Nipmuc (ATF-175) early in the forenoon watch on 5 February 1948. She arrived at Norfolk the following morning, Nipmuc turning over her charge at 0943 to the big harbor tug YTB-222 for berthing in the Sewell's Point Basin. That same day, the ship's prospective Turkish commanding officer, Lt. Okan, reported to CinCLant. There, ex-Larch was transferred to Turkey under the Military Assistance Program, turnover being effected "about 8 Feb[ruary] 1948."
Ex-Larch, rechristened AG-4 (P.304), together with ten other ships transferred to the Turkish Navy - ex-Alecto (AGP-14), ex-Chukawan (AOG-26), and eight motor minesweepers (YMS) - sailed for the Mediterranean on 12 June 1948, escorted by the fleet tug Mosopelea (ATF 158). The group proceeded via Bermuda (16-19 June), and Funchal, Madeira (1-4 July), eventually reaching Gibraltar on 7 July, whence they proceeded toward their new homeland.
AG-4 served the Turkish Navy through the late 1960s.
By: Robert J. Cressman