(YP 261: tonnage 212; length 135'0"; beam 20'0"; draft 5'0"; speed 15 knots; armament 2 .50 caliber machine guns)
The steel-hulled diesel-engined yacht Alida, designed by the Purdy Boat Co., was completed at Neponset, Mass., by George Lawley and Son, in 1922 for capitalist Bertram Harold Borden. Registered at the port of New York, N.Y., and homeported at Rumson, N.J., Alida was later acquired by the New York financier James Cox Brady and renamed Victoria Mary (1927). By 1929, Victoria Mary had been acquired from the Brady Estate, and was owned by Gordon Marine Corp., of New York City. By 1935, the vessel had been renamed again, to All Alone. Operated by the U.S. Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, Department of Commerce, All Alone was renamed Navigation by 1938.
With the urgent need for patrol vessels in the wake of the American entry into World War II in December 1941, Navigation was accepted by the Navy at Norfolk, Va., on 19 January 1942 for conversion to a patrol vessel, yacht (coastal) PYc 23. She was immediately allocated to the Inshore Patrol, Fifth Naval District, the following day, and the Commandant, Fifth Naval District (ComFive), received authorization to place the ship in full commission. She arrived at Colonna’s Shipyard, Inc., Berkeley, Va., on 22 January 1942, to begin her transformation.
Navigation was renamed Sard (PYc 23) but, during the course of the conversion work, was found to be of light construction -- and thus unsuitable for work in the open sea. Her classification changed to that of a district patrol vessel (YP), she was redesignated as YP 261 and the name Sard cancelled on 27 March 1942. She left her conversion yard on 6 April 1942.
With her home yard at Norfolk, YP 261 operated from the Section Base at Little Creek, serving in the waters of the Fifth Naval District from the spring of 1942, operating as a guardship, directing ships to the swept shipping channel or embarking and transporting pilots, duty punctuated by periodic repairs at local yards. On 24 October 1942, while shifting her berth at the Naval Operating Base (NOB), Norfolk, Va., YP 261’s starboard engine failed, causing the patrol vessel to drift into the fuel oil barge YO 31, the resulting collision fortunately causing negligible damage to both vessels.
On 1 June 1943, YP 261 lay “moored as before” at the Little Creek Section Base when she received orders at the end of the mid watch “to get underway at once and proceed to [a] fire at sea…” Less than an hour later, she embarked a party of eleven men under the command of a Lt. Miller, and loaded fire and rescue equipment. Underway at 0520, YP 261, Lt. (j.g.) Donald P. Kennett, D-V(G), USNR, officer-in-charge, set course for “Point P1,” and came alongside the burning tanker Montana at 0840, and began playing water onto the conflagration threatening to consume that ship, that had collided with the freighter John Morgan during the mid watch. The latter had exploded and sunk. A little over four hours later, the fleet tug Choctaw (AT 70) secured a line to Montana’s stern and started towing the tanker out of the channel. After loading foam and foam equipment on board, YP 261 began a continuous fire watch at the start of the first dog watch (1600) as she carried out “extensive fire fighting activities.”
The mid watch on 2 June 1943 began with YP 261 secured alongside Montana, with the patrol vessel’s men ready with axes to cut the lines securing them should the fires worsen. YP 261’s sailors played three streams of water on the burning vessel throughout the mid and morning watches, receiving additional foam powder and gear from the Coast Guard cutter CG 83330 at 0730. The patrol vessel exhausted her supply of foam mid-way through the forenoon watch, and within three quarters of an hour, explosions rocked Montana every 90 seconds.Such eruptions, however, apparently signaled the beginning of the end for the fires, for by the end of the afternoon watch on 2 June 1943, from the point of view of an observer on board YP 261, there were “no signs of fire on any part of [the] tanker…” A Lt. Cmdr. Johnson inspected the charred and battered Montana at 1720 and “reported [the] fire to be out.”
Her task completed, YP 261 pulled away from the tanker an hour later and assumed guardship duty. She stood by the wrecked vessel until relieved by YP 502 mid-way through the forenoon watch the following morning. Returning to the section base at Little Creek for supplies, fuel and water, YP 261 returned to Montana’s wreck at 1830 and relieved YP 502 of guard duty.
YP 261 transferred equipment and a stand-by working party to Montana on the morning of 4 June 1943, and while on station as guardship the next day (5 June) lowered her QBE sound gear and conducted hourly sound checks. The civilian-manned salvage vessel Warbler (ARS 11) and the harbor tug Bomazeen (YT 238) reached the scene on the 6th and began towing Montana, an evolution that continued into the following day, after which YP 261 returned to the section base at Little Creek to replenish water and supplies, her role in the drama over.
YP 261’s routine patrols continued into 1944. She ran aground during the second half of the first watch on 25 February 1944 on shoals off Smith Island, but eventually worked free of her predicament during the forenoon watch the following day. The subsequent investigation [convened 28 February] found no indication of a failure or lack of equipment, although the vessel’s gyro repeater pelorus was under repairs at the Norfolk Navy Yard at the time.
A little less than a month later, however, YP 261 was steaming on outer guardship duty when she collided with the freighter Thomas P. Beal at 1020 on 24 March 1944. Lt. Louis C. Heitger, D-V(S), USNR, YP 261’s officer-in-charge, passed the word for all hands to don lifejackets soon thereafter. A quick inspection, however, resulted in the ship being pronounced safe, and, relieved by the submarine chaser SC 437, the patrol vessel steamed to the section base at Little Creek and safely moored. On 25 March, Ens. Clarence E. Washburn, DE-V(G), USNR, relieved Lt. Heitger as officer-in-charge of YP 261.
YP 261 having suffered damage in the collision with Thomas P. Beal, the Fifth Naval District’s local board of inspection and survey evaluated the patrol vessel and recommended that she be sold or scrapped, given that “the cost of repairs and structural renewals to put her in serviceable condition would be excessive.” Consequently, the office of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) authorized the Commandant of the Fifth Naval District (ComFive) to place YP 261 out of service, with ComFive to advise the CNO of the date that that action occurred.
Laid up on 21 June 1944, YP 261 was stricken from the Navy list on 29 July 1944. She remained in the waters of the Fifth Naval District through the end of the hostilities that had resulted in her acquisition. Delivered to the War Shipping Administration at the Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, the former district patrol vessel was sold on 10 January 1946.
Robert J. Cressman