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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Willoughby

 

A bay at Norfolk, Va., an estuary of Hampton Roads, named in 1608 by Capt. John Smith to honor both his birthplace and his close friend Lord Willoughby.

 

II

 

(AGP-9: dp. 2,592; l. 310'9"; b. 41'1"; dr. 13'6"; s. 18.2 k.; cpl. 340; a. 2 5", 8 40mm., 8 20mm., 2 dct; cl. Oyster Bay)

 

The second Willoughby (AVP-57) was laid down on 15 March 1943 at Houghton, Wash., by Lake Washington Shipyards; reclassified from a small seaplane tender, AVP-57, to a motor torpedo boat tender, AGP-9, on 11 May 1943; launched on 21 August 1943; sponsored by Mrs. D. R. Lee; and commissioned on 18 June 1944, Lt. Comdr. A. J. Church in command.

 

After fitting out and undergoing trials, Willoughby conducted her shakedown out of San Diego, Calif., exercising in antisubmarine warfare operations, antiaircraft and gunnery drills, and running further speed trials from 9 July to 4 August. Following a post-shakedown availability at Terminal Island, Calif., from 5 to 11 August, the motor torpedo boat tender shifted toSan Francisco where she loaded stores before getting underway on 15 August, bound for Funafuti, in the Ellice Islands.

 

While she was en route, her destination was changed to Manus, in the Admiralties. Willoughby fueled and took on stores at Tulagi on 1 September before she reached her destination, Seeadler Harbor, Manus, on 6 September. Her stay there proved brief, however, for she got underway that day, bound for the Padaido Islands.

 

The voyage to Mios Woendi proved eventful, as Willoughby picked up a sound contact at 1335 on the 7th, distance 1,000 yards. Going to general quarters, the ship commenced a run on what, after the executive officer had reported seeing a torpedo wake pass the ship, she believed to be a submarine. At 1342, the motor torpedo boat tender dropped four depth charges and, although she lost contact with the submarine, continued her search of the area. Regaining a slight sound contact at 1512, Willoughby made another run but did not drop depth charges. The ship secured from general quarters at 1632, resumed her voyage, and arrived at Mios Woendi the following day.

 

Willoughby tended PT boats at Mios Woendi from 9 September to 12 October. During that time, the New Guinea campaign was gradually coming to an end; PT boats operating from that base were finding slimmer pickings to choose from in regard to Japanese barge traffic. All combat patrols from Mios Woendi would finally cease on 16 November when the Japanese evacuation had been completed.

 

Willoughby was part of the burgeoning force of PT boats and their tenders that had grown as the war in the Southwest Pacific had progressed. So significant had been the role of PT boats in the island-hopping campaigns that they were slated to take part in supporting the initial landings in the Philippines. Moving the boats from New Guinea to the Philippine Islands, however, presented a problem.

 

Comdr. Selman S. Bowling, commanding Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron (MTBRon) 21, considered the voyage too long to be made "in one hop, even if escorted by tenders." The margin of safety for the ships to operate with, once they arrived in the objective area after the long voyage, was deemed unacceptable. Fuel was critical.

 

Ultimately, the decision was made to route the boats via the recently secured Palau Islands, sending them along with their tenders. Willoughby made up part of this significant movement—"the largest and longest mass movement of PT's under their own power during the war"—that began on Friday, the 13th of October, at Mios Woendi.

 

On that day, Willoughby, in company with Oyster Bay (AGP-6)—Commander Bowling's flagship—Wach-apreague (AGP-8), Half Moon (AVP-26), two Army craft, and 45 PT's, sailed for the Palaus on the first leg of their monumental voyage. At Kossol Roads, the PT's fueled from the tenders, while the tenders in turn fueled from accompanying oilers. On the second leg of the trip, the PT's fueled at sea from the tenders, a difficult task but a necessary one if the PT's were to arrive off Leyte with their tanks full and ready to go.

 

The PT's arrived at Leyte Gulf on the morning of 20 October—the first day of the landings on the western beaches of Leyte proper—and commenced patrols that evening. Willoughby steamed to San Pedro Bay, off Leyte, arriving there at 1443 on 21 October, and tended the PT's of MTBRon 7 and MTBRon 21 over the ensuing weeks—weeks that did not lack for excitement!

 

On the 23d, Willoughby took on board a man from PT-325 who had been wounded by shrapnel during enemy air attacks that day. The next day, heavy air attacks upon the invasion forces commenced at 0750; combat air patrol (CAP) fighters splashed four twin-engined "Betty" bombers, one of them attempting a suicide dive into a transport. A few moments later, a formation of "Sally" light bombers came into the area;and the heavy antiaircraft barrage claimed three of the enemy. CAP fighters and antiaircraft fire combined to down most of another mixed group of Japanese planes—"Nicks," "Vals," and a "Dinah" that attacked subsequently.

 

Willoughby gunners claimed two planes downed—this was reduced to one the next day—and one of the planes she damaged crashed into and sank a nearby LCI. The motor torpedo boat tender brought on board five of the survivors and saw a kamikaze crash into the ocean-going tug Sonoma (ATO-12). During the day, Willoughby stood at general quarters at one point for a stretch of six and one-half hours.

 

Enemy air attacks enlivened the next day, the 25th, as well. During that 24-hour span, Willoughby was at general quarters for 11 and one-half hours. She also shot down one Japanese plane.

 

Meanwhile, major Japanese naval forces were approaching the Philippines from three directions. The enemy's southern force was heading through the Sulu Sea in the direction of Surigao Strait; his central force was crossing the Sibuyan Sea toward the San Bernardino Strait; and a northern force of Japanese carriers was north of Luzon, hoping to lure the American fast carrier task force away from Leyte Gulf.

 

For the first time since Guadalcanal, the opposing sides arrayed battleships against one another. Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf deployed his forces across the northern end of Surigao Strait. Thirty-nine of the 45 PT boats that had come from Mios Woendi and made the long voyage via the Palaus deployed in sections of three boats each, strung out through the straits and along the coasts of Mindanao, Leyte, and Bohol, into the Mindanao Sea, to detect and report on the enemy's approach.

 

In the Battle of Surigao Strait that followed, the PT's played a significant role. "The skill, determination, and courage displayed by the personnel of these small boats is worthy of the highest praise," reported Admiral Chester W. Nimitz subsequently. "Their contact reports," he continued, "as well as the firing and illumination they drew from the enemy, gave ample warning to our own main body; and, while the issue of the later main engagement was never in doubt, the PT's action very probably threw the Japanese command off balance and contributed to the completeness of their subsequent defeat."

 

All boats attached to Willoughby participated in that important encounter, while the tender herself remained at San Pedro Bay. In ensuing days, the motor torpedo boat tender experienced enemy air attacks at odd intervals during the daylight hours. On the morning of the 27th, one of her boats came under attack by Japanese planes, when a "Zeke" dropped a fragmentation bomb off the bow of PT-1S2. Two men died and eight were wounded; the boat subsequently pulled next to Willoughby and transferred the dead and wounded to the tender.

 

Also while at San Pedro Bay, the ship experienced a storm of hurricane intensity on 30 October. During: that spell of heavy weather, the storm carried away one of the ship's motor launches, but it was later recovered. The ship herself suffered no damage.

 

From 31 October to 12 November, Willoughby experienced daily air raids. On 5 November, Japanese planes scored a direct hit on PT-320, moored off the tender's starboard bow, demolishing it and killing nearly the entire crew. Only one man survived. A week later, on 12 November, a flight of suiciders attacked. While Willoughby herself was not touched, she witnessed kamikazes crash into Egeria (ARL-8) and Achilles (ARL-41).

 

Willoughby and her sister ship, Wachapreague, retired from Leyte on the 13th and arrived at Mios Woendi on the 16th. On the 17th and 18th, the motor torpedo boat tenders loaded stores and supplies. Later, in company with Pontus (AGP-20), Wachapreague, seven Army crash boats and 41 PT's, Willoughbydeparted New Guinea and proceeded vai Kossol Roads, back to the Philippines, in a repeat performance of the previous mass movement of PT's from New Guinea to that strategic archipelago. After servicing the PT's en route, at Kossol Roads, on 23 November, Willoughby steamed into Leyte Gulf, arriving late on the 27th.

 

The tender manned her general quarters stations when a large American task force nearby—composed of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers—underwent a Japanese air attack. Shells from "friendly" ships fell "perilously near" Willoughby, but she emerged unscathed as the force repulsed the enemy raid.

 

Shifting to Espiritu Santo soon thereafter, Willoughby picked up necessary spare parts vital to the continued operation of PT boats in the Philippine Islands on 4 January 1945 and sailed for the Treasury Islands the following day, where she picked up more spare parts after her arrival on the 8th. She continued loading operations at Green Island, Emirau Island, and Manus before returning to the Philippines, anchoring in San Juanico Strait on 18 January.

 

Over the next three days, Willoughby unloaded the vital spares that had been gathered on the recently completed voyage. She then steamed to Mangarin Bay, off Mindoro Island—towing a fuel barge and a small pontoon drydock, and in company with 25 Army tugs escorted by two destroyer escorts—and arrived there on the last day of the month. En route, on 27 January, she spotted an enemy plane; but it did not attack the convoy.

 

Willoughby's sojourn at Mindoro was brief. Underway soon thereafter, she took the kamikaze-damaged destroyer Gansevoort (DD-608) in tow. Since no other vessels were available to tow the crippled destroyer, Willoughby drew that special duty and pulled the ship to San Pedro Bay, arriving on 5 February. Willoughby then resumed tending PT's at San Pedro Bay the following day.

 

Willoughby—carrying the personnel of MTBRons 20 and 30—departed Leyte on 19 February in a Mindoro-bound convoy with 25 LST's, 15 LSM's, nine LCI's, seven motor minesweepers (YMS), a PC, an APC, and three subchasers (SC). On the morning of 21 February, the Japanese submarine RO-43 torpedoed Renshaw (DD-499), one of the convoy's escorts. The torpedo struck the destroyer's forward fire room, leaving her dead in the water. Shaw (DD-373) stayed behind to protect the crippled Renshaw while the convoy proceeded on.

 

RO-43 slipped away, however, only to meet her doom in less than a week—the victim of planes from the escort carrier Anzio (CVE-57) on the 26th. Ultimately, a tug, dispatched from Leyte, brought the crippled Renshaw into port.

 

Willoughby meanwhile arrived at Mangarin Bay, Mindoro, on 23 February to prepare for the imminent invasion of Palawan, in the southern Philippine Islands. On 27 February, the motor torpedo boat tender weighed anchor and set out for Palawan with a convoy of 19 LST's and 21 PT's, escorted by four destroyers. On 28 February, units of the 8th Army went ashore on Palawan, the westernmost major island in the Philippine archipelago. The next day, Willoughby and her charges from MTBRons 20 and 23 arrived off that island at Puerta Princessa and began operations. The invading troops of the 8th Army found little opposition awaiting them ashore; and the PT's, patrolling the length of the island, found no enemy forces afloat.

 

Off the southern tip of Palawan, however, the PT's found a small Japanese garrison on the island of Pandanan. The boats repeatedly strafed the enemy positions, encountering a volume of fire that was initially heavy but that later slackened and finally disappeared. Late in April 1945, a landing party went ashore and discovered the reason for the lack of interest apparently shown them by the enemy ashore—the enemy had evacuated ! Thus, at the end of April, the PT's ceased patrols off Palawan.

 

Relieved by Mobjack (AGP-7) at Puerto Princessa on 30 April, Willoughby weighed anchor and sailed for Samar, arriving at PT Base 17 on 2 May. She spent the next eight days steaming to various points in Leyte Gulf, taking on stores in preparation for the expected invasion of Brunei Bay in British North Borneo.

 

Willoughby returned to Mangarin Bay in company with five merchantmen and two destroyer escorts and then spent the period from 13 May to 4 June off Mindoro, tending MTBRons 13 and 16, preparing for the North Borneo operation to come. The tender got underway on 5 June and the following day arrived at Puerto Princessa, where the PT's refueled and underwent minor repairs.

 

Willoughby weighed anchor on 7 June and headed for Brunei Bay, rendezvousing in Balabac Strait on the 8th with the Brunei assault force, and continued in company with those warships for the remainder of the voyage toward her objective. Meanwhile, on 9 June, four of her boats—PT-78, -81, -82, and -84—patrolled the invasion area. The next day, the 9th Australian Division moved ashore at Brunei Bay and pushed inland.

 

Willoughby arrived at Brunei Bay on 10 June and went to general quarters at 0615 in preparation for the assault phase of the strikes on Labuan Island, Muara Island, and Polompong Point. Shortly thereafter, a lone Japanese plane attacked the formation to which Willoughby was attached and dropped two bombs which splashed into the water without causing any damage.

 

Willoughby tended MTBRons 13 and 16 in Brunei Bay into August 1945. Early in June, the ship experienced several air raid alerts; and three enemy planes actually entered the area on the 14th. In the meantime, ashore, the Australians were encountering heavy resistance from the Japanese on Labuan Island. The PT's supporting the campaign destroyed a 60-foot sailing vessel and six barges during the first phase of the landings and then ran out of targets afloat. They then machinegunned and mortared enemy positions, and at times conducted joint strikes with Royal Australian Air Force planes at Jesselton, Miri, and Kudat—enemy-held oil centers on North Borneo.

 

During her time at Brunei Bay, Willoughby shifted her anchorage on 10 July, moving to a spot off Muara Island, the site of the newly established PT boat base. She remained there for the rest of the war. She lay at Muara Island on 15 August when word reached her that the Japanese had decided to accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. Simultaneously, offensive operations by MTBRons 13 and 16 ceased.

 

On 24 August, Willoughby got underway for Mindanao to take on a cargo of diesel fuel and arrived at Zamboanga on the 26th. During her passage, she sighted a Japanese horned-type mine and destroyed it with gunfire. Willoughby returned to Muara Island at the end of the month, encountering en route on 28 August and sinking another stray Japanese mine.

 

From 30 August to 8 September, Willoughby tended PT's off Muara Island before she embarked 38 officers and 318 men of the 9th Australian Division and loaded 50 tons of supplies on the 9th, at nearby Labuan Island. She got underway on the following day, bound for Tanjong Po, off the mouth of the Sarawak River. En route, she rendezvoused with six PT's whom she accompanied for the rest of the passage.

 

Making arrival on the 11th, 180 troops disembarked from Willoughby and went on board five of the PT's. The sixth boat embarked Capt. W. C. Jennings, Comdr. J. P. Engle, USNR, and Lt. Comdr. A. W. Fargo, USNR—three American naval officers who had been invited to attend the surrender of Japanese forces in North Borneo. Soon, the six PT's and the Australian corvette HMAS Kapunda headed upriver.

 

Although the surrender ceremonies had been set for 1400 on board Kapunda, the Japanese commander, General Yamamura, reported that he was "indisposed" to attend. Ordered to show up, however, the general arrived at 1500. The surrender was signed, and theJapanese left the surrender ship, Kapunda, at 1600. The half dozen PT's then proceeded on to Kuching on the Sarawak River and put ashore the first Australian occupation troops.

 

The next morning, 12 September, Willoughby disembarked the remaining Australian troops to the PT's and unloaded the 50 tons of stores into two LCT's brought to Tanjong Pp for that purpose. On the 13th, 210 former Allied prisoners of war and internees— kept at Kuching—embarked in Willoughby. Among the men transferred were two enlisted men who had been captured by the Japanese after their ship, the heavy cruiser Houston (CA-30), had been sunk in Sunda Strait on 1 March 1942. Several stretcher cases went on board the Australian hospital ship Manunda, anchored off Tanjong Po.

 

Underway on the afternoon of 13 September, Willoughby and her PT's headed for Labuan Island and, upon her arrival there on the evening of the 14th, discharged all evacuees. Willoughby subsequently made two additional voyages to Kuching, each time transporting Australian troops and relief supplies on the in-bound passage and taking out former prisoners of war and internees on the return trip. She made her last visit to Tanjong Po on 23 September, returning to Brunei Bay and anchoring at her usual berth off Muara Island late the following day.

 

Willoughby subsequently returned via the Philippine Islands to the west coast of the United States, arriving at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., in early December 1945 for temporary duty there in connection with the repair of vessels at the yard. She continued that duty into 1946.

 

In the meantime, the Coast Guard inspected the vessel for suitability as a weather ship; and, after the ship was classified as "not essential to the defense of the U.S.," Willoughby was decommissioned on 26 June 1946 and was simultaneously turned over to the Coast Guard at Government Island, Oakland, Calif. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 19 July 1946.

 

Renamed Gresham and classified as WAVP-387, the erstwhile motor torpedo boat tender served with the Coast Guard through the late 1960's. In 1967, with the formation of Coast Guard Squadron 3, Gresham, operated in conjunction with Navy forces on Operation "Market Time"—the interdiction of communist coastal arms and munitions traffic along the coastline of Vietnam. Later classified as a medium endurance cutter, WMEC-387, Gresham was turned over to the Maritime Administration on 21 May 1973 for layup in the James River and was sold on 25 October 1973 to B. V. Intershitra of Rotterdam, Holland.

 

Willoughby (AGP-9) earned three battle stars for her World War II service