A Bay near Cordova, Alaska, Latin form of orc—the grampus or killer whale.
(AVP–49: dp. 2,800; l. 310’9”; b. 41’2”; dr. 13’6”; s. 18.2 k.; cpl. 85; a. 1 5”, 8 40mm; cl. Barnegat)
Orca (AVP–49) was laid down 13 July 1942 by the Lake Washington SB Corp., Houghton, Wash.; launched 4 October 1942; sponsored by Mrs. J. W. Reeves, Jr.; and commissioned 23 January 1944, Comdr. Morton K. Fleming, Jr., in command.
After shakedown off San Diego, Orca sailed for Pearl Harbor, escorting Fanshaw Bay (CVE–70). Reporting to ComNavAir, 7th Fleet, she was ordered on to Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, where she commenced operations with her first squadron on 26 May 1944.
Orca’s squadrons carried out “Black Cat” missions during the ensuing five months, for which they were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Comdr. Fleming, Orca’s skipper and CO of the task unit, was awarded the Legion of Merit. These missions, in which black-painted Mariner seaplanes conducted night bombing strikes against Japanese shipping, proved to be tremendously destructive to the enemy. The squadrons also carried out air-sea rescue missions in support of the 13th Army Air Force.
In early November, Orca moved into the Leyte Gulf area, as that campaign was reaching the critical stage. She sent her planes into Ormoc Bay right under the noses of the Japanese on 3 December, and they taxied around the bay for nearly an hour picking up survivors of Cooper (DD–695), sunk the previous night. After the Japanese finally realized what was taking place, they threw up quite a fusillade. The pilots bore down on the throttles and headed for the open sea. Heavily loaded, the old Catalinas finally heaved themselves into the air, after about a three mile run. Making additional trips, they were able to rescue 167 Cooper survivors.
Orca was attacked by a lone plane on 27 August, but her guns drove it off. That next night, “Tokyo Rose” announced that “The volume of ack-ack which met the previous night’s raid indicated that a battleship of the Wisconsin class had been sighted at Middleburg Island.”
Orea came under similar attack twice on 26 November, and was credited with an assist on a plane which narrowly missed Oyster Bay.
On 2 January 1945, Kamikaze planes attacked Orca’s convoy formation in which a minesweep, was destroyed and Orca was slightly damaged as a plane splashed close alongside, showering her with wreckage and bomb fragments: six of her gun crew were wounded.
Tokyo Rose announced that their “special attack group” had sunk one battleship, one heavy cruiser, and seriously damaged three other cruisers in a large convoy moving north along the cost of Mindoro.
Orca continued to service air squadrons and carry out rescue missions until 15 August. She had also been commended, along with her squadrons, by General Walter Kreuger, U. S. 6th Army commander, for landing scouts behind enemy lines, carrying supplies to guerilla forces and evacuating wounded.
On 26 September, Orca arrived at Okinawa to assist in the occupation of the Japanese Islands. She was soon detached to proceed to the United States.
Orca’s next big assignment was furnishing services for the Bikini A-Bomb tests. Orca then decommissioned 31 October 1947 and joined the reserve fleet in San Francisco. She had earned three battle stars for service in World War II.
Orca re-commissioned 15 December 1951 and operated out of San Diego through 1952, under command of Cmdr. A. K. Espenas. On 5 January 1953 she was underway for the Philippines.
On 2 August 1954, Orca relieved Walton (DE–361) at Hong Kong as station ship. By 25 February 1955 she was back in San Diego for leave and upkeep.
Orca deployed to WestPac on 11 July for another tour, in which she weathered two severe typhoons. She returned to the States again on 1 December and was able to spend her first Christmas in four years at home. Her leave period was extended to 15 January 1956.
Following extensive training during the early months of 1956, Orca deployed to the Western Pacific for a seven month tour on 24 April. During this deployement, she was awarded the yellow “E” for excellence in the Air Department for fiscal year 1956. She returned to San Diego on 19 November.
Orca made a subsequent WestPac cruise beginning 22 August and continued to provide a vital service to the Pacific Fleet until she decommissioned in March 1960 and went into reserve at Columbia River, Oregon.
In January 1962, Orca was loaned to Ethiopia under the Military Assistance Program as Ethiopia (A–01), where she remains into 1970.