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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Tombigbee

 

A river in Alabama which connects Birmingham with the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile. It rises in northeastern Mississippi and flows south by southeast into western Alabama, and joins the Alabama River to form the Mobile. The name itself is derived from Choctaw Indian words for "coffin makers."

 

(AOG-11: dp. 4,142 (f.) ; 1. 310'9"; b. 48'6"; dr. 15'8"; s. 14 k.; cpl. 120; a. 4 3"; cl. Patapsco)

 

Tombigbee (AOG-11) was laid down on 23 October 1942 at Savage, Minn., by Cargill, Inc.; launched on 18 November 1943; sponsored by Mrs. F. R. Stoltz; and commissioned on 13 July 1944 at New Orleans, Lt. Comdr. A. O. Askland, USNR, in command.

 

Following shakedown, Tombigbee departed Galveston on 13 August, bound for the west coast; transited the Panama Canal en route; and reached San Diego on the 28th. Pushing on for the western Pacific, the tanker arrived at Pearl Harbor on 4 September, where she paused briefly before proceeding on to Eniwetok, in the Marshalls, where she joined Service Squadron 10.

 

Her tanks filled with fresh water instead of the oil for which she was designed, Tombigbee began replenishing the tanks of the ships of the Fleet and worked out of Guam and Ulithi as she continued this duty for the remainder of the year. The ship's first taste of combat came while she lay anchored at Ulithi on 20 November 1944. A Japanese midget submarine slipped into the anchorage area and torpedoed the oiler Missis-sinewa (AO-59) which was anchored less than 1,500 yards from Tombigbee.

 

The tanker remained on the Guam-Ulithi "express" water supply run through January 1945. On 7 February, while she was steaming toward Guam, orders rerouted Tombigbee to Saipan. Subsequently removed to Tinian, with a full load of water, she supplied water until 19 February, when she joined Task Group (TG) 50.9 and got underway for the Volcano Islands. At 0924 six days later, Tombigbee was detached from the task group and entered the harbor at Iwo Jima. There, the water carrier lay-to and kept put of the line of fire of the supporting battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. Rough seas hampered her water-discharging operations, but the need for fresh water overrode considerations such as the desire to avoid minor hull damages caused by the ships bumping and scraping each other in the tossing waves.

 

After remaining in the Iwo Jima area until 9 March, the ship proceeded to Guam where she reloaded her holds with more of her precious liquid cargo. Later in the month, Tombigbee joined the invasion force heading for the Ryukyus.

 

On 1 April, Easter Sunday, the day broke cool and slightly overcast—with a calm sea—a perfect day for an amphibious operation. Tombigbee arrived off the beaches of Okinawa at 0545 and steamed to a position on the eastern side of the island and close to the transport group. As she neared the anchorage, a Japanese suicide plane—intent on bigger game than the water carrier—flew past the tanker's starboard side and crashed into Hinsdale (APA-120) before that ship could unload her troops.

 

The next day, Tombigbee shifted her anchorage to Hagushi on the western side of the island. During succeeding weeks, Tombigbee's men saw numerous suicide planes crash into combat ships and auxiliaries. Meanwhile, they often remained at general quarters up to 20 hours a day while supplying water to landing craft and amphibious warfare ships. The ship made trips to Kerama Retto and reloads from fleet tankers that brought water from the Philippines. Tombigbee remained at Okinawa through the end of the war, and her historian noted that "the entire harbor went wild" when news arrived that Japan had accepted unconditional surrender terms.

 

The tanker departed the Ryukyus on 21 September, bound for Japanese waters, and, two days later, arrived at Sasebo to participate in occupation operations. She twice returned to Okinawa for reloading. By November, Army and Navy doctors judged the water supply around Nagasaki as fit, and the tanker began replenishing her depleted tanks with local water to supply the ships still on duty in Japanese ports.

 

Following this tour of duty, for which she received the Navy Occupation Service Medal, Tombigbee supported the ships participating in the atomic bomb testing in the Marshalls at Bikini Atoll, from 1 April to 5 September 1946. During the assignment, she made periodic trips to Eniwetok for replenishment of water. Four days after her arrival at Pearl Harbor on 14 September, the ship headed for the west coast for an overhaul which lasted into 1947. Upon her return to the western Pacific, she began conducting local operations in the Marshalls—at Eniwetok and Kwajalein— which continued from 13 January to 14 March. Then, following brief repairs at Pearl, Tombigbee was again deployed to the Far East. She operated out of Guam; Yokosuka, Japan; Pusan and Jinsen (Inchon), Korea; Tsingtao, China; and Buckner Bay and Naha, Okinawa; as well as at Manila in the Philippine Islands. The tanker remained in the Far East until 1 August, when she departed Tsingtao, bound for Long Beach. After overhaul, the ship returned to the Orient and touched at familiar ports before heading for the west coast late in the summer of 1949 for inactivation. On 12 December 1949, Tombigbee was placed out of commission, in reserve, at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, Calif.

 

The North Korean invasion of South Korea, commencing on 25 June 1950, triggered the reactivation of many Navy ships, including Tombigbee. The gasoline tanker was recommissioned at Mare Island on 28 July 1950 and was deployed to the Middle Pacific (MidPac) operating area where she served until near the end of hostilities in Korea. On 13 May 1953, she sailed for the northern Pacific and operated in that area until 22 December when she was transferred back to MidPac.

 

The tanker conducted logistic support operations in the Pacific through 1964, taking part in various fleet operations. During the period from 1953 to 1964, the ship participated in Operations "Rocky Shoals" (22 October to 22 December 1958), "Twin Peaks" (13 May to 31 May 1959), "Blue Star" (26 February to 6 April 1960), "Long Haul" and "Pack Mule" (8 September to 20 October 1960), "Green Light" (10 May to 28 June 1961), and "Silver Sword" (27 October to 6 November 1961), and her areas of operation ranged from Maui, Hawaii, to Yokosuka, Japan.

 

She deployed to the Far East in the spring of 1962, conducting logistic support operations out of Subic Bay, Philippines, from 16 May to 8 June befor proceeding to Yokosuka and technical availability. For the remainder of the year, the ship conducted local operations out of Pearl Harbor before departing the Hawaiian area on 18 December for Port Lyttelton, New Zealand, and participation in Operation "Deep Freeze 1963." Following a port visit to Lyttelton from 5 to 9 January 1963, Tombigbee pressed on for the colder climes of McMurdo Sound and conducted operations in support of "Deep Freeze" from 18 to 22 January before returning—via Wellington, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia—to Pearl Harbor. After local operations out of Pearl, the tanker was deployed to the Marshalls for local petroleum-carrying operations through the late summer before returning once again to the Hawaiian Islands for local operations and technical availability at Pearl Harbor.

 

Tombigbee continued her unglamorous but vital support duties in the Pacific. She was again deployed to the Marshalls—Kwajalein and Eniwetok—and also conducted local operations out of Pearl. Returning to the west coast in the spring, the tanker participated in Exercise "Pinetree" from 21 to 28 May 1964 before returning to Pearl Harbor. Two shuttle runs between Pearl Harbor and Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; classified operations, and technical and restricted availability at the Navy Yard, Pearl Harbor, occupied the ship through late October, before she was again deployed to the Philippines. While in the Far East, Tombigbee operated out of Subic Bay; Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Hong Kong; and Yokosuka—before departing Japan on 7 June and arriving at Pearl Harbor on the 18th. She remained in Hawaiian waters for the rest of 1965.

 

Upon completion of her regular overhaul at Pearl Harbor, Tombigbee conducted regular refresher training before departing Pearl on 21 February 1966 for passage to Subic Bay, where she made port on 12 March. Deploying to coastal waters off Vietnam, the tanker conducted two logistic support deployments, from 18 March to 6 June, and from 11 July to 28 August, before returning to Pearl Harbor for restricted availability, independent ship exercises, and operations as a submarine target reference vessel.

 

Homeported at Pearl Harbor in 1967, Tombigbee began the new year with operations with Submarine Flotilla 5 and Destroyer Flotilla 5 on antisubmarine warfare exercises off Maui before she conducted exercises in anticipation of her second WestPac deployment. On 6 September, she departed Pearl Harbor, bound, via Guam and Subic Bay, for Vietnam, and arrived at Danang on 4 October. She conducted logistics support operations in the I Corps tactical zone from 4 October to 2 December, from 29 December 1967 to 26 January 1968, and from 25 February to 19 March. Availability at Subic Bay punctuated her tours in the combat zone.

 

Following a return to Pearl Harbor for overhaul and independent ship exercises, Tombigbee was redeployed to WestPac. She arrived at Danang on 23 November for further operations in I Corps tactical zone, supporting the Vietnamese counteroffensive operation. On 22 December, while engaged in these activities, she assisted LCU-1500 which encountered difficulties and was in danger of being swept ashore and foundering in heavy surf. Continuing under the operational command of Naval Support Activity, Danang, Tombigbee carried her support mission of supplying petroleum products for air and ground forces engaged in combatting Communist forces in the I Corps zone through the middle of the year 1969.

 

Following a routine return to Pearl Harbor for upkeep and availability, the tanker was again deployed off Vietnam with Service Squadron 5 through 1971, supporting Operation "Market Time" in the Vietnamese coastal waters, with periodic visits to such ports as Singapore; Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Hong Kong; Brisbane, Australia; and Subic Bay. She also conducted surveillance operations of Soviet warships operating in the vicinity of American forces in the South China Sea.

 

After returning to Pearl Harbor at the end of the year 1971, Tombigbee was placed in reduced operating status from 1 February 1972. From 31 May to 7 July, the ship underwent inactivation preparations; and, on the latter date, 7 July, the ship was decommissioned at Pearl Harbor and transferred to the Greek Navy. Renamed Ariadni (A-414)—after the mythical daughter of King Minas who helped Theseus to escape from the labyrinth—the ship has served with the Hellenic Navy as a support tanker through 1979.

 

Tombigbee was awarded two battle stars for World War II service and 11 engagement stars for her service in the Vietnam War.