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Bering Strait
(AVP-34: dp. 2,592 (tl.); l. 310'9"; b. 41'2"; dr. 13'6" (lim.); s. 18.2 k. (tl.); cpl. 367; a. 3 5", 8 40 mm., 8 20 mm., 6 .50-cal. mg., 2 dct.; cl. Barnegat)


The strait connecting the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Sea and separating Russian Asia from North America. The Danish explorer for whom it was named, Vitus Bering, made the first transit of the strait in 1728.

The small seaplane tender Bering Strait (AVP-34) was laid down on 7 June 1943 at Houghton, Wash., by Lake Washington Shipyards; launched on 15 January 1944; sponsored by Mrs. George F. Cornwall; and commissioned at her builder’s yard on 19 July 1944, Comdr. Walter D. Innis in command.

After fitting out and conducting her initial trials in Puget Sound, Bering Strait departed Seattle on 10 August 1944. She reached Alameda Naval Air Station, on the 13th. From 17 August to 13 September, she then conducted her shakedown, covering areas such as ship control, communications, general drills, engineering and damage control instruction, gunnery training, as well as antiaircraft and antisubmarine work. Proceeding to Los Angeles upon completion of that training, Bering Strait underwent two weeks of repairs and alterations at Terminal Island Naval Drydocks. Reporting for duty on 2 October, the warship sailed for the Hawaiian Islands the following day.

Bering Strait arrived at Pearl Harbor on 9 October, and on the 13th sailed for Hilo. Arriving there on the 14th, she established a seaplane base at Kuhio Bay and, until 5 November, carried out training with successive detachments of Martin “Mariner” flying boats. She tended six Martin PBM-3Ds from Patrol Bombing Squadron (VPB) 25 from 14 to 19 October and a second detachment of six PBM-3Ds from the same squadron between the 19th and the 29th, after which time she tended six “Mariners” from VPB-26. Concluding those advanced base evolutions on 5 November, the ship sailed for Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, the same day.

Arriving at her destination on the 6th, Bering Strait received orders to organize and train an air-sea rescue task group made up of herself and the seaplane detachment of Rescue Squadron (VH) 2, an assignment that required her to exchange her PBM-3D aviation spare parts allowance for PBM-3R spares. Returning to Pearl Harbor on 23 November, Bering Strait underwent an availability and then loaded the equipment of VH-3, which had been substituted for VH-2. She sailed for the Marshall Islands on 1 December. During the passage to Kwajalein Atoll, the ship served as antisubmarine screen for the seaplane tender Cumberland Sound (AV-17).

After pausing at Kwajalein from 9 to 12 December, Bering Strait returned to sea again with Cumberland Sound and steamed to Eniwetok, arriving there on the 13th to carry out air-sea rescue training, which began after VH-3 arrived from Kaneohe on the 15th. She conducted nine days of training with VH-3 before that squadron transferred to Cumberland Sound on 24 December.

Bering Strait, along with PC-1082 and PC-572, then escorted cargo ship Situla (AK-140) and six merchantmen from Eniwetok to Saipan, departing on 24 December and arriving on the 28th in Garapan Harbor. Shifting the next day to Tanapag Harbor, Guam, Bering Strait received VH-3 on board on the 29th.

On New Years’ Day 1945, however, Bering Strait transferred her aviation maintenance unit to VH-3 for temporary duty and sent her aviation officer, aviation storekeepers, all aviation spare parts and three of her boats to the naval air base at Tanapag, so that the organization could be maintained intact. That day, the ship reported to Commander, Marianas Patrol and Escort Force, for temporary operational control for radar picket and air-sea rescue duty. She departed Tanapag harbor on 5 January 1945 to take up her new task.

From 6 to 15 January 1945, Bering Strait operated 10 miles west of Sarigan and Guguan Islands, on radar picket station to warn Saipan of approaching Japanese planes. Returning to Saipan for logistics on the 16th, she embarked a fighter-director officer from a Marine aircraft group on the 18th, and sailed later that same day to assume radar picket duties as fighter-director ship in Operation “Michigan” to intercept Japanese planes operating between Iwo Jima and Truk. Returning to Saipan on the 28th for logistics, and to disembark the Marine fighter-direction officer, the warship commenced a six days of voyage repairs. On 4 February, she sailed to relieve Fanning (DD-385) on air sea rescue lifeguard station.

At 2300 on 10 February, Bering Strait made contact with a homeward-bound B-29, first by radar and then visually. The ship switched on her lights and stood by for a landing, illuminating the sea and then indicating the wind direction with searchlights. The B-29, “Deacon’s Delight,” accomplished “an almost perfect ditching,” and Bering Strait’s motor whaleboat took the entire 12-man crew on board and brought them to the ship. Then, after collecting floating debris and gear, and riddling the “Superfortress” with gunfire in a vain effort to sink it, the ship rammed and sank the hardy bomber.

An hour earlier, Bering Strait had picked up a report that another B-29 (“Homing Bird”) had ditched. After completing the “Deacon’s Delight” rescue, the ship headed for the scene of “Homing Bird’s” crash. Guided to the scene by a “Dumbo,” the ship arrived there by 1605 on 11 February and picked up the entire 11-man crew immediately.

Work still remained to be done, however, for soon after winding up the rescue of “Homing Bird’s” crew, Bering Strait received orders to rendezvous with the high speed minelayer Robert H. Smith (DM-23), to pick up the crew of a “Superfortress” that had ditched around 2230 on the 10th. The violent landing had claimed the lives of four of the B-29’s crew. A patrolling “Dumbo” spotted the men the next morning, dropped survival gear, and covered them until Robert H. Smith picked them up that afternoon. On the morning of 12 February, Bering Strait embarked the seven survivors of the third B-29. Returning to Saipan on 15 February 1945, the ship disembarked the airmen the same day.

On the night of the ship’s return to her station, on 19 February, a B-29 had ditched at 2100, 12 miles north of Pagan Island, but broke up and sank upon landing; five men, trapped in the wreckage, had drowned. Unable to extract all of the life rafts (one man had the use of only a partially inflated rubber boat), the crew lay at the mercy of the sea. Directed to the scene by a “Dumbo,” Bering Strait sighted the survivors and hove to in their midst. She picked up five, one of whom had been swimming without a life jacket for two hours, and sighted two bodies but could not recover them. Fortunately, the airmen had been spotted in the darkness because of tiny lights pinned to their life jackets, lights that had been “stolen” from the Navy “on personal initiative.” Bering Strait disembarked those survivors at Saipan on 21 February, and got underway later the same day to relieve Cummings (DD-363) on station. Returning to Saipan on 3 March, the ship spent the next six days in an availability before setting out to resume her lifeguard work on 9 March.

The following day, Bering Strait established contact with a B-29, nicknamed the “Hopeful Devil,” that radioed a distress call during its return from a bombing mission over the Japanese home islands. The “Superfortress”ditched alongside at 1238, and Bering Strait picked up the nine-man crew in short order. Almost immediately, the seaplane tender picked up a position report on another ditched B-29, and steered a course to the rescue. Although the position reports provided the ship proved incorrect because a “Dumbo” pilot mistook Guguan Island for Alamagan, she spotted a “Dumbo” orbiting ten miles southwest of Guguan and altered course to investigate. She picked up the 11-man crew of that ditched B-29 and then shaped a course for lifeguard station.

She remained at sea, 28 miles from Pagan Island, from 11 to 14 March, at which time she relieved sistership Cook Inlet (AVP-36) at another air-sea rescue station. Returning to Saipan for logistics on the 16th, she disembarked the 20 airmen taken on board since the 10th before sailing for Guam. Bering Strait’s performance of her rescue function earned her accolades from the Commanding General of the 313th Bombardment Wing who, upon the ship’s detachment from lifeguard duties, sent her a message: “Since you have been our guardian angel of the seas you have returned safely to us 50 combat crewmen. Many of them are flying against the enemy again. We are grateful for the splendid work you have done and wish you all the best of luck.”

On 18 March, Bering Strait began preparations for Operation "Iceberg," the invasion of Okinawa. Underway the following day, she escorted Hamlin (AV-15) to Saipan and completed the preparations for “Iceberg” by loading VH-3 equipment during the period 20 to 23 March. This work accomplished, she sailed for Kerama Retto on the 23d in company with three large seaplane tenders and three of her sister ships, as Task Group (TG) 51.20.

Reaching her destination on 28 March, Bering Strait anchored in the Kerama Retto passage, and TG 51.20 established a seaplane base that day. The next day, VH-3 arrived and flew its first “Dumbo” mission.

On "L-day," 1 April 1945, the invasion of Okinawa commenced. The first "Dumbo" mission of the invasion for VH-3 proved successful, as the squadron commander, Lt. Comdr. W. H. Bonvillian, rescued the three-man crew of a Grumman TBF "Avenger" from Torpedo Squadron (VT) 29. Antiaircraft fire had brought the plane down in a rice paddy, and the three crewmen deemed it prudent to take to their rubber boat and head out to sea where Lt. Comdr. Bonvillian's "Mariner" picked them up.

For the next three months, Bering Strait served as the coordinating control tender at Kerama Retto, not only tending seaplanes but also conducting sonar searches to guard against midget submarine incursions. Planes under her direction carried out 268 missions during April, May and June 1945, rescuing 105 men, who represented 39 different squadrons: 26 Navy, ten Marine Corps, two Army Air Force and one Royal Navy. The carrier-based squadrons among that number came from 23 ships, including the British fleet carrier HMS Formidable.

Twice during April 1945, one of her planes was forced down by friendly fire and compelled to taxi back to base. On 23 April, one of her PBMs transferred a severely wounded Marine to the tender St. George (AV-16) for medical treatment. A little over a month later, on 24 May, her PBMs rescued a pilot from the waters at the mouth of Ariake Bay, on southern Kyushu. Similar rescues took place on 2 June, when Bering Strait-based PBMs rescued the crew of a crashed Consolidated PB2Y “Coronado” from inside Kagoshima Bay, as well as a pilot from the fleet carrier Ticonderoga (CV-14). Later that month, on 14 June, ship-based “Mariners” rescued pilots under fire from enemy guns at Kikai Shima in the Northern Ryukyus.

Pilots and aircrew proved not the only beneficiaries of Bering Strait’s controlled rescue missions; on 27 May 1945, two kamikazes crashed the destroyer Braine (DD-630). One Bering Strait-based PBM rescued ten men from the ship while a second stood by in case the need arose to fly critically hurt sailors to medical treatment. On other occasions, Bering Strait’s planes escorted damaged aircraft to safety, or directed ships to the assistance of survivors in the water.

The ship’s stay at Kerama Retto likewise proved eventful, as, during that three-month period the ship went to general quarters 154 times. There was one day, 6 June, on which the ship stood to battle stations six times! On 5 May, two of her men suffered injuries when hit by shrapnel from friendly fire bursting too close to the ship during an attack by enemy planes; she herself then fired on an enemy plane attempting to crash the nearby St. George. On 21 June, her guns splashed a Nakajima E4N type 00 “Jake” reconnaissance floatplane. During that same raid, just after one kamikaze had crashed Curtiss (AV-4), a second overflew Bering Strait and headed for Kenneth Whiting (AV-14). Bering Strait took the suicider under fire and splashed it short of its target.

Relieved of her duties as coordinating control tender on 30 June, Bering Strait shifted to Chimu Wan, Okinawa, on 15 July. She maintained four PBMs from VH-3 until 7 August, when she transferred that unit to another tender and assumed duties tending six planes from VH-1. Twice during her first months at Chimu Wan weather compelled her to undertake typhoon evasion, once from 19 to 20 July and again between 1 and 3 August.

Departing Okinawa finally on 26 September 1945, Bering Strait set sail for Japan to support the occupation. Reaching Sasebo soon thereafter, she remained at that port until sistership Cook Inlet relieved her on 30 December, and she sailed for the United States. Proceeding via Pearl Harbor, Bering Strait reached San Francisco on 21 January 1946 and commenced pre-inactivation overhaul. Decommissioned at Alameda Naval Air Station on 21 June 1946, Bering Strait was transferred to the Coast Guard, on loan, on 14 September 1948, and was initially given the designation WAVP-382. Over the next 23 years, the ship operated as a weather ship in the Pacific first based at Seattle, Wash., and, later, at Honolulu. Bering Strait was reclassified a high endurance cutter and redesignated WHEC-382 on 1 May 1966. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 26 September 1966, and she was transferred permanently to the Coast Guard at the same time. In the course of her Coast Guard career, she visited such diverse places as Adak, Alaska; Yokosuka, Japan; Honolulu, Hawaii; French Frigate Shoals and Laysan Island. During the Vietnam War, Bering Strait participated in “Market Time” coastal surveillance operations off South Vietnam.

Transferred to the South Vietnamese Navy on 1 January 1971, Bering Strait was renamed Tran Quang Khai (HQ.02). After the fall of South Vietnam to the communists in April 1975, the ship fled to the Philippines. Formally acquired by the Philippine government on 5 April 1976, the ship was renamed Diego Silang (PF-9), and served as such until laid up in June 1985.

Bering Strait was awarded three battle stars for her World War II service.

Robert J. Cressman
9 February 2006

Published: Wed Jun 24 15:47:43 EDT 2015